A TWIST IN THE TALE

As pop­u­lar as ever in London’s West End, The Mouse­trap is also on its first na­tion­wide tour. Sixty-four years af­ter it first opened, Crime Scene fi­nally gets around to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing Agatha Christie’s clas­sic mur­der mystery.

Crime Scene - - AGATHA CHRISTIE SPECIAL - By An­dre Paine

Sir Stephen Wa­ley-co­hen, pro­ducer of the world’s longestrun­ning play, is af­fa­ble but in­cred­u­lous fol­low­ing a Fri­day night per­for­mance of The Mouse­trap. Ac­cord­ing to the wooden sign in the foyer it was show num­ber 26,538 for the fa­mous pro­duc­tion of Agatha Christie’s mur­der mystery – but for Crime Scene it re­ally was the first time. Maybe not the last, though. “Peo­ple do go back, they take their chil­dren or grand­chil­dren,” says Wa­ley-co­hen. The Mouse­trap is some­thing you can plan your life around.

If you’re a crime reader – and es­pe­cially if you’re an Agatha Christie fan – it’s a play you re­ally have to get around to see­ing even­tu­ally. You don’t even have to go to London – The Mouse­trap has re­cently been filling theatres around the coun­try on its first na­tion­wide tour. “It’s ter­rific,” says Mathew Prichard, who was fa­mously gifted the rights to the play on his ninth birth­day by his grand­mother, Agatha Christie. “I would hardly have be­lieved that there were enough peo­ple who hadn’t seen it in London to go and see it in the prov­inces – but I would have been proved spec­tac­u­larly wrong.”

While there are al­ways hot tick­ets in the West End, such as Harry Pot­ter And The Cursed Child, there’s noth­ing that comes close to the stay­ing power of The Mouse­trap. When it reached 25,000 per­for­mances and 60 years, an Agatha Christie me­mo­rial in the shape of a gi­ant book was erected nearby. Her play ac­tu­ally broke the record for per­for­mances way back in 1958, by which point it had been at the Am­bas­sadors Theatre for five­and-a-half years. Fol­low­ing its move – without miss­ing a per­for­mance – next door to the St Martin’s Theatre in 1974, The Mouse­trap has now been run­ning for al­most 64 years.

“It’s a long time, isn’t it?” says Wa­ley-co­hen, who took over as pro­ducer in 1994 and has seen it about 40 times. “To have be­come the world’s long­est-run­ning show in 1958, it means that every per­for­mance since then has been a world record. So we break the world record eight times a week.”

Mil­lions of peo­ple may have seen the show, but en­ter­ing the world of The Mouse­trap feels like you’re fi­nally be­ing let in on a the­atri­cal se­cret (as­sum­ing you avoided the one big spoiler). To pre­serve the mystery, at the end of the per­for­mance, the au­di­ence is told: “Now you have seen The Mouse­trap you are our part­ners in crime, and we ask you to pre­serve the tra­di­tion by keep­ing the se­cret of who­dunit locked in your hearts.”

Wa­ley-co­hen de­clines to dis­cuss the iden­tity of the killer, and Prichard once protested at the promi­nence of the solution on Wikipedia (it’s since been moved fur­ther down the on­line en­cy­clopae­dia’s en­try). But like many Christie nov­els, The Mouse­trap is prob­a­bly al­most as en­joy­able sec­ond time around, when you al­ready know the end­ing. What the play shares with her books is that pe­riod at­mos­phere

– in this case, a coun­try house in the midst of snow­storm, a few years af­ter the Sec­ond World War. For the many tourists who flock to the show, the Agatha Christie set­ting is prob­a­bly as al­lur­ing as the fog­bound London streets of Sher­lock Holmes sto­ries. “She’s a big name in China,” says Wa­ley-co­hen, who took the London pro­duc­tion to Shanghai in 2010.

Any fears the play might have be­come hoary tourist fod­der are soon dis­patched by the fresh­ness of the pro­duc­tion and the en­gag­ing per­for­mances. The story’s up­mar­ket guest­house is im­pres­sively staged: there’s a sense of scale from stair­cases and a cel­lar even though the set is es­sen­tially one room, while a snow ma­chine sets the chilly win­ter scene out­side the win­dow. But while The Mouse­trap may be the ar­che­typal English mur­der mystery – a dead body and a house­ful of sus­pects, each of them with a se­cret – Christie’s sin­is­ter sto­ries are never cosy. There’s a true crime case be­hind The Mouse­trap, as well as a sense of the post­war so­cial or­der be­ing shaken up.

The longevity of the play is partly ex­plained by its fam­ily ap­peal. It’s en­try-level crime that shouldn’t give you night­mares, though it has a few gen­tle frights as well as a hint of farce in the hy­per­ac­tive guest Christo­pher Wren. The bad-tem­pered Mrs Boyle is a won­der­ful cre­ation – she could have been one of Basil Fawlty’s trou­ble­some guests. Fol­low­ing the sly hu­mour of the first act, the play be­comes more men­ac­ing af­ter the in­ter­val, and the fi­nal rev­e­la­tion is clever if not quite Christie at her most in­ge­nious. As a the­atri­cal fi­nale, though, it works a treat. Christie’s plot is the at­trac­tion rather than any big names, though the play did orig­i­nally open with Richard At­ten­bor­ough and Sheila Sim – a pair­ing that set it off to a fly­ing start at the box of­fice. It has also had a few celebrity guests in the au­di­ence, in­clud­ing Quentin Tarantino, whose The Hate­ful Eight is a nod to Christie. Yet in some ways the en­dur­ing suc­cess is sur­pris­ing be­cause it’s prob­a­bly not Christie’s finest play. Wa­ley-co­hen ad­mits that Wit­ness For The Pros­e­cu­tion is bet­ter, though he notes that it is “very dif­fi­cult to do suc­cess­fully as a play be­cause it has a very large cast”.

Per­haps its suc­cess is also down to the fact that The Mouse­trap is an ex­clu­sively the­atri­cal event. The film con­tract has a clause that al­lows a movie to be made only af­ter the end of the West End run – and there’s no sign of that. “I think it en­dures be­cause of its own his­tory now,” says Wa­ley-co­hen. “I’ve said it be­fore and I say it every time I’m asked: I don’t see why the show should ever come to an end.”

The Mouse­trap is on a na­tion­wide tour un­til 10 De­cem­ber (for de­tails, visit mouse­trapon­tour.com) and tak­ing book­ings at London’s St Martin’s Theatre up to 2018.

I think it en­dures be­cause of its own his­tory now

The hristiec magic as well works on stage page. as it does on the

The play con­tin­ues in the Wes­tend while it is also on tour.

“No, ’Ive got no idea what the hi­nesec word for ‘mur­der’ is.”

been “Well, yes, I have 1958.” sit­ting here since

Every per­for­mance now sets a new record.

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