Among the many temporarily closures due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) was The Mousetrap. All of you luvvies out there, plus one or two others, will know that ‘The Mousetrap’ is a play. But it isn’t just any old performance; it is has been playing to audiences in London’s West End for 67 years – until March 2020. In fact, The Mousetrap is (or was) the longest running show of any kind in the world. Therefore, irrespective of theatrical merit, maybe it should be on your list of Things To Do and See Before You Can’t. Perhaps that’s going a bit far – but do put it on your list of Things To Consider in the Future – when you can.
The Mousetrap is a classic ‘whodunnit’ penned by the uncrowned queen of detective stories, Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie (1890-1976). It opened in the West End in November 1952, with Richard Attenborough and his wife, Sheila Sim, in the cast, and has been there ever since, transferring from its original venue of the Ambassadors Theatre on 25 March 1974 to the larger adjacent St Martin’s Theatre without missing a performance. The world premier (no one would have recognised it as such a landmark at the time) was actually at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, on 6 October 1952. Agatha Christie originally wrote Mousetrap as a short radio play called Three Blind Mice, and did not think the theatrical version would run more for than a few months.
The action is set “in the present”, but it is clearly sometime in 1950s England. Recently married Mollie and Giles Ralston are preparing to receive their first paying guests at Monkswell Manor, when news comes on the radio of a ghastly murder in London. One by one, the Ralstons’ visitors arrive, each one ranging from slightly quirky to the certifiably bonkers. One of these individuals is called Christopher Wren, so you know that Something Isn’t Quite As It Should Be. The weather closes in, rain turns to heavy snow, Monkswell Manor gets cut off – and the arrival of a policeman on skis confirms your worst suspicions. Take that anyway you like.
In Agatha Christie land, murder is certainly unpleasant, and no doubt terribly inconvenient for the victim; but any attempt at grit or reality would be bad form and is decently avoided. Mousetrap is more of a pleasing, and slightly intriguing, romp through 1950s middle-class eccentric-home-counties England than a sinister drama. Therein lies part of its charm. The performance Mrs Britain took me to several years ago was jolly good with some frightfully spiffing acting from the whole cast, though I thought that Helen Clapp as Mollie Ralston and Gregory Cox as the mysterious Mr Paravicini were particularly convincing. And, no – I won’t tell you what happens, because that would spoil it. Indeed, they ask you at the end not to divulge ‘whodunnit’ – which is fair enough.
The fun of Mousetrap envelops you such that you feel part of an intimate circle whilst watching it. It is complemented by the ambience of St Martin’s Theatre, which has a plush, if somewhat cosy, auditorium and whose stage has been graced by some of the great British thespians of all time. The theatre first opened its doors in 1916 and, though it apparently underwent a major redecoration as recently as the 1990s, it did strike me that some parts, including the toilets, somehow got missed in all the excitement just a generation ago. So it has a certain period atmosphere. The bar prices were appropriately 21st century, however; but, when we gallantly decided to give our custom, the barmen were playing that international game of seeing how long they could last without smiling at their customers. Somehow, all of this added to the experience, rather like a bad odour in the countryside.
Anyway, if you thought that the mousetrap was a device to catch small rodents, think again.
The Mousetrap celebrated its 27,500th performance in September 2018. That works out at about 416 a year. Let’s hope it makes 30,000.
Visit the official website for The Mousetrap and St Martin’s Theatre to find out more.