The Mousetrap

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The Mousetrap

St Martin's Theatre, London in March 2010
Written byAgatha Christie
Date premiered6 October 1952 (25 November 1952 in the West End)
Original languageEnglish
 
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The Mousetrap

St Martin's Theatre, London in March 2010
Written byAgatha Christie
Date premiered6 October 1952 (25 November 1952 in the West End)
Original languageEnglish

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 the longest initial run of any play in history, with its 25,000th performance taking place on 18 November 2012.[1] 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.

Contents

History

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The play is based on a short story, itself based on the radio play, but Christie asked that the story not be published as long as it ran as a play in the West End of London.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. Outside of the West End, only one version of the play can be performed annually[2] 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.[3] The suggestion to call it The Mousetrap came from Christie's son-in-law, Anthony Hicks.[4] 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.[5]

Tom Stoppard's play The Real Inspector Hound parodies many elements of The Mousetrap, including the surprise ending.[6]

Theatrical performances

Blue plaque on the front wall of St Martin's Theatre, Covent Garden, London

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 New Ambassadors Theatre. It ran at this theatre until Saturday, 23 March 1974 when it immediately transferred to the St Martin's Theatre, next door, where it reopened on Monday, 25 March thus keeping its "initial run" status. As of 13 October 2011 it has clocked up a record-breaking 24,537 performances, with the play still running at St Martin's Theatre.[7] 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."[8] 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.[9]

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.")[10]

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 fire in the main hall.

22461st performance (St Martin's Theatre – November 2006)

Notable milestones in the play's history include:

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.[11]

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 18th November 2012, both the 25,000th performance and the 60th year of the production were marked by a special, charity performance that featured Hugh Bonneville, Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters and Miranda Hart. The money raised by the performance went towards Mousetrap Theatre Projects.[1]

Characters

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 bases of the traditional whodunnit formula,[12] 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,[13] 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.[14][15]

Plot

The play is set in the Great Hall of Monkswell Manor, in "the present".[16]

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 in the newspaper of the murder. 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 finishes in a twist ending during which Major Metcalf reveals himself to be an undercover police detective, looking for the murderer. He announces this in response to the revelation that Sergeant Trotter is not a policeman at all, and is actually Georgie Corrigan, the murderer. Corrigan 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. Corrigan feels that Boyle could have prevented the death,[17][18] and also blames Mrs Ralston, who was a teacher at the school the Corrigans attended at the time. He intends to kill Ralston at the end of this confession, but is overpowered and arrested by Major Metcalf.

Miss Casewell is revealed to be Corrigan's sister who came looking for him.[16]

Publication history

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).

References

  1. ^ a b c Marsden, Sam (18 Nov 2012). "Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap celebrates its 60th anniversary with star-studded show". The Daily Telegraph (London). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/drama/9686732/Agatha-Christies-The-Mousetrap-celebrates-its-60th-anniversary-with-star-studded-show.html. Retrieved November 19, 2012.
  2. ^ Haining, Peter. Agatha Christie – Murder in Four Acts. (Page 23). Virgin Books, 1990. ISBN 1-85227-273-2
  3. ^ Saunders, Peter. The Mousetrap Man. (Page 118) Collins, 1972. ISBN 0-00-211538-7
  4. ^ Morgan, Janet. Agatha Christie, A Biography. (Page 291) Collins, 1984 ISBN 0-00-216330-6.
  5. ^ "Mousetrap Theatre Projects - History", Mousetrap Theatre Projects, March 15, 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
  6. ^ M. Carlson (1993). "Is there a real inspector Hound? Mousetraps, deathtraps, and the disappearing detective". Modern drama (Hakkert) 36 (3): 431–442. ISSN 0026-7694.
  7. ^ "Mousetrap website". The-mousetrap.co.uk. http://www.the-mousetrap.co.uk. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  8. ^ Bruce Pendergast (2004). Everyman's Guide to the Mysteries of Agatha Christie. Trafford Publishing. pp. 32,299. ISBN 978-1-4120-2304-7.
  9. ^ Antiques Trade Gazette, Issue 2003, 20 August 2001, page 14. Found with the telegram was a lingerie bill from 1952 for £24.13s. 6d.
  10. ^ Entirely Up To You, Darling by Diana Hawkins & Richard Attenborough; page 180; paperback; Arrow Books; published 2009. isbn 978-0-099-50304-0
  11. ^ "PR Newswire report of event". Prnewswire.co.uk. 2001-01. http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=61377. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  12. ^ Christopher Booker. The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. Continuum. p. 15. http://books.google.es/books?id=XEUamcjBo9IC&lpg=PA515&dq=%22The%20Mousetrap%22%20detective%20formula&hl=en&pg=PA515#v=onepage&q=%22The%20Mousetrap%22%20detective%20formula&f=false.
  13. ^ Leach, Ben (29 Aug 2010). "Agatha Christie’s family criticise Wikipedia for revealing Mousetrap ending". Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/wikipedia/7970312/Agatha-Christies-family-criticise-Wikipedia-for-revealing-Mousetrap-ending.html. Retrieved 20 October 2010.
  14. ^ Bignell, Paul; Matthew Bell (17 September 2010). "Wikipedia springs 'Mousetrap' ending". The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/wikipedia-springs-mousetrap-ending-2064958.html. Retrieved 4 November 2010.
  15. ^ Cohen, Noam (17 September 2010). "Spoiler Alert: Whodunit? Wikipedia Will Tell You". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/18/business/media/18spoiler.html. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  16. ^ a b Christie, Agatha. The Mousetrap and Other Plays. Signet, 2000. ISBN 0-451-20114-0
  17. ^ Frank Northen Magill (1990). "The Mousetrap". Cyclopedia of literary characters II. 3. Salem Press. pp. 1052. ISBN 978-0-89356-520-6.
  18. ^ Bonnie A. Helms (1987). 50 Great Books: Synopses, Quizzes, & Tests for Independent Reading. Walch Publishing. p. 358. ISBN 978-0-8251-0117-5.

Further reading

External links