St Martin's Theatre, London in March 2010
|Written by||Agatha Christie|
|Date premiered||6 October 1952|
|Place premiered||Theatre Royal, Nottingham|
|Setting||A guest house, Monkswell Manor, wintertime "in the present day"|
The Mousetrap is a murder mystery play by Agatha Christie. The Mousetrap opened in the West End of London in 1952, and has been running continuously since then. It has by far the longest initial run of any play in history, with its 25,000th performance taking place on 18 November 2012. It is the longest running show (of any type) of the modern era. The play is also known for its twist ending, which the audience are traditionally asked not to reveal after leaving the theatre.
The play began life as a short radio play broadcast on 30 May 1947 called Three Blind Mice in honour of Queen Mary, the consort of King George V. The play had its origins in the real-life case of the death of a boy, Dennis O'Neill, who died while in the foster care of a Shropshire farmer and his wife in 1945.
The play is based on a short story, itself based on the radio play, but Christie asked that the story not be published as long as it ran as a play in the West End of London. The short story has still not been published within the United Kingdom but it has appeared in the United States in the 1950 collection Three Blind Mice and Other Stories.
When she wrote the play, Christie gave the rights to her grandson Matthew Prichard as a birthday present. In the United Kingdom, only one production of the play in addition to the West End production can be performed annually, and under the contract terms of the play, no film adaptation can be produced until the West End production has been closed for at least six months.
The play had to be renamed at the insistence of Emile Littler who had produced a play called Three Blind Mice in the West End before the Second World War. The suggestion to call it The Mousetrap came from Christie's son-in-law, Anthony Hicks. In Shakespeare's play Hamlet, "The Mousetrap" is Hamlet's answer to Claudius's inquiry about the name of the play whose prologue and first scene the court has just observed (III, ii). The play is actually The Murder of Gonzago, but Hamlet answers metaphorically, since "the play's the thing" in which he intends to "catch the conscience of the king."
The play's longevity has ensured its popularity with tourists from around the world. In 1997, at the initiative of producer Stephen Waley-Cohen, the theatrical education charity Mousetrap Theatre Projects was launched, helping young people experience London's theatre.
As a stage play, The Mousetrap had its world premiere at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham on 6 October 1952. It was originally directed by Peter Cotes, elder brother of John and Roy Boulting, the film directors. Its pre-West End tour then took it to the New Theatre Oxford, the Manchester Opera House, the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, the Grand Theatre Leeds and the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham before it began its run in London on 25 November 1952 at the Ambassadors Theatre. It ran at this theatre until Saturday, 23 March 1974 when it immediately transferred to the larger St Martin's Theatre, next door, where it reopened on Monday, 25 March thus keeping its "initial run" status. The London run has now exceeded 25,000 performances. The director of the play for many years has been David Turner.
Christie herself did not expect The Mousetrap to run for such a long time. In her autobiography, she reports a conversation that she had with Peter Saunders: "Fourteen months I am going to give it", says Saunders. To which Christie replies, "It won't run that long. Eight months perhaps. Yes, I think eight months." When it broke the record for the longest run of a play in the West End in September 1957, Christie received a mildly grudging telegram from fellow playwright Noël Coward: "Much as it pains me I really must congratulate you ..." In 2011 (by which time The Mousetrap had been running for almost 59 years) this long-lost document was found by a Cotswold furniture maker who was renovating a bureau purchased by a client from the Christie estate.
The original West End cast included Richard Attenborough as Detective Sergeant Trotter and his wife Sheila Sim as Mollie Ralston. They took a 10% profit-participation in the production, which was paid for out of their combined weekly salary ("It proved to be the wisest business decision I've ever made... but foolishly I sold some of my share to open a short-lived Mayfair restaurant called 'The Little Elephant' and later still, disposed of the remainder in order to keep Gandhi afloat.")
Since the retirement of Mysie Monte and David Raven, who each made history by remaining in the cast for more than 11 years, in their roles as Mrs Boyle and Major Metcalf, the cast has been changed annually. The change usually occurs around late November around the anniversary of the play's opening, and was the initiative of Sir Peter Saunders, the original producer. There is a tradition of the retiring leading lady and the new leading lady cutting a "Mousetrap cake" together.
The play has also made theatrical history by having an original "cast member" survive all the cast changes since its opening night. The late Deryck Guyler can still be heard, via a recording, reading the radio news bulletin in the play to this present day. The set has been changed in 1965 and 1999, but one prop survives from the original opening – the clock which sits on the mantelpiece of the fireplace in the main hall.
Notable milestones in the play's history include:
- 22 April 1955 – 1,000th performance
- 13 September 1957 – Longest-ever run of a "straight" play in the West End
- 12 April 1958 – Longest-ever run of a show in the West End with 2239 performances (the previous holder was Chu Chin Chow)
- 9 December 1964 – 5,000th performance
- 17 December 1976 – 10,000th performance
- 16 December 2000 – 20,000th performance
- 25 November 2002 – 50th anniversary; a special performance was attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
- 18 November 2012 – 25,000th performance
In May 2001 (during the London production's 49th year, and to mark the 25th anniversary of Christie's death) the cast gave a semi-staged Sunday performance at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff-on-Sea as a guest contribution to the Agatha Christie Theatre Festival 2001, a twelve-week history-making cycle of all of Agatha Christie's plays presented by Roy Marsden's New Palace Theatre Company.
A staging at the Toronto Truck Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, that opened on 19 August 1977 became Canada's longest running show, before finally closing on 18 January 2004 after a run of twenty-six years and over 9,000 performances.
On 18 November 2012, both the 25,000th performance and the 60th year of the production were marked by a special charity performance which featured Hugh Bonneville, Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters and Miranda Hart. The money raised by the performance went towards Mousetrap Theatre Projects.
During the Diamond Anniversary year of 'The Mousetrap', a touring production visited regional theatres for the first time in its history, whilst the London run continued uninterrupted.
- Mollie Ralston – Proprietor of Monkswell Manor, and wife of Giles.
- Giles Ralston – Husband of Mollie who runs Monkswell Manor with his wife.
- Christopher Wren – The first guest to arrive at the hotel, Wren is a hyperactive young man who acts in a very peculiar manner. He admits he is running away from something, but refuses to say what. Wren claims to have been named after the architect of the same name by his parents.
- Mrs Boyle – A critical older woman who is pleased by nothing she observes.
- Major Metcalf – Retired from the army, little is known about Major Metcalf.
- Miss Casewell – A strange, aloof, masculine woman who speaks offhandedly about the horrific experiences of her childhood.
- Mr Paravicini – A man of unknown provenance, who turns up claiming his car has overturned in a snowdrift. He appears to be affecting a foreign accent and artificially aged with make-up.
- Detective Sergeant Trotter – The detective role during the play. He arrives in a snow storm and questions the proprietors and guests.
Twist ending and tradition of secrecy
The murderer's identity is divulged near the end of the play, in a twist ending which is unusual for playing with the very basis of the traditional whodunnit formula, where the cliché is that the detective solves the crime and exposes the remaining plot secrets. By tradition, at the end of each performance, audiences are asked not to reveal the identity of the killer to anyone outside the theatre, to ensure that the end of the play is not spoiled for future audiences.
Christie was always upset by the plots of her works being revealed in reviews, and in 2010 her grandson Matthew Prichard, who receives the royalties from the play, was "dismayed" to learn from The Independent that the ending to The Mousetrap was revealed online in the play's Wikipedia article.
The play is set in the Great Hall of Monkswell Manor, in what Christie described as "the present".
Act I opens with the murder of a woman in London, played out in sound only on a dark stage. The action then moves to Monkswell Manor, recently converted to guesthouse run by a young couple, Mollie and Giles Ralston. Their first four guests arrive: Christopher Wren, Mrs. Boyle, Major Metcalf and Miss Casewell. Mrs. Boyle complains about everything, and Giles offers to cancel her stay, but she refuses the offer. They become snowed in together and read of the murder in the newspaper . An additional traveller, Mr. Paravicini, arrives stranded after he ran his car into a snowdrift, but he makes his hosts uneasy.
In the next scene, the imposing Mrs. Boyle complains to the other guests, first to Metcalf and then to Miss Casewell, who both try to get away from her. Wren comes into the room claiming to have fled Mrs. Boyle in the library. Shortly afterwards, the police call on the phone, creating great alarm amongst the guests. Mrs. Boyle suggests that Mollie check Wren's references. Detective Sergeant Trotter arrives on skis to inform the group that he believes a murderer is at large and on his way to the hotel, following the death of Mrs Maureen Lyon in London. When Mrs Boyle is killed, they realise that the murderer is already there.
Act II opens ten minutes later, where the investigation is ongoing. Each character is scrutinised and suspected. Mollie and Giles get into a fight, and Chris Wren and Giles argue over who should protect Mollie. Suspicion falls first on Christopher Wren, an erratic young man who fits the description of the supposed murderer. However, it quickly transpires that the killer could be any one of the guests, or even the hosts themselves. The characters re-enact the second murder, trying to prevent a third.
At last, Sergeant Trotter assembles everyone in the hall with the plan to set a trap for one of the suspects.
Identity of the murderer
The play builds towards a twist ending as Sergeant Trotter sends the other characters to different rooms to reenact one another's testimonies. After a while he calls Mollie Ralston into the room, and forces her to admit that she was a teacher at the school where the Corrigan children had gone, and that the youngest boy had written a letter to her before his death, one that she did not read until it was too late to act on it. Sergeant Trotter then reveals himself to be the eldest of the three Corrigan children, and that he has merely been posing as a policeman. He confesses to Mollie Ralston that he killed Maureen Lyon and Mrs Boyle in revenge for the death of his brother, who died of negligence when the brothers were in the foster care of Mrs Lyon. Trotter feels that Boyle could have prevented the death, and blames Mrs Ralston for supposedly ignoring their letter. He intends to kill Ralston at the end of this confession, but is calmed down by Miss Casewell who reveals herself to be Trotter's older sister. As she takes Trotter away, Metcalf enters and reveals that he was the undercover policeman sent to track down the murderer, and suspected Trotter from the start when he also claimed to be a police officer. 
The play made little stir in the review pages of the British press when it opened. The Manchester Guardian commented that it was "a middling piece" with "less in it than meets the eye … Coincidence is stretched unreasonably." The critic commented that the characters were "built entirely of clichés". The reviewer in The Times was more favourably disposed to the characters, calling them "nicely assorted, individually labelled and readily identified", and found the plot "elaborately skilful." In The Daily Express John Barber praised "the atmosphere of shuddering suspense" but thought some of the characters "too obvious by half". In The Illustrated London News, J. C. Trewin commented that those who failed to spot the killer would probably call the plot "preposterous and over-burdened", but those who succeeded might be more kindly disposed.
The play was published as a paperback by Samuel French Ltd as French's Acting Edition No. 153 in 1954 and is still in print. It was first published in hardback in The Mousetrap and Other Plays by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1993 (ISBN 0-39-607631-9) and in the UK by Harper Collins in 1993 (ISBN 0-00-224344-X).
In 1959 it was announced producer Edward Small, who had brought Witness for the Prosecution to the screen, was to make a film version of the play in co-production with Victor Saville for United Artists. Tyrone Power and Maria Schell were named as leads. However no film version resulted.
In 1960, the Bengali author Premendra Mitra directed a film Chupi Chupi Aashey, based on the radio play and short story. This uncredited adaptation is possibly the only notable film version of The Mousetrap.
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