All of you luvvies out there will know that ‘The Mousetrap’ is a play. But it isn’t just any old play; it is the longest running show of any kind in the world and therefore, irrespective of theatrical merit, should possibly be on your list of Things To Do and See Before You Die. No; perhaps that’s going a bit too far – but do put it on your list of Things To Consider When Visiting London.
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 of London in November 1952, with Richard Attenborough and his wife, Sheila Sim, in the cast and has been continuously running there ever since, transferring from its original venue of the Ambassadors Theatre on 25th March 1974 to the larger adjacent St Martin’s Theatre without missing a performance. The world premier (I doubt anyone thought it a particular landmark at the time) was actually at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, on 6th 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 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 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. And you can take that anyway you want.
In Agatha Christie land, murder is 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 we saw in April 2014 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, I think.
The fun of Mousetrap is complemented by the experience of St Martin’s Theatre, which has a decidedly cosy auditorium and whose stage, prior to the Mousetrap’s arrival in 1974, 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 in the 1990s, it did strike me that some parts, including the toilets, somehow got missed in all the excitement. The bar prices are appropriately extortionate and, when we gallantly gave our custom, the barmen were evidently seeing how long they could last without smiling.
So if you thought that the mousetrap was a device to catch small rodents, think again.
St Martin’s Theatre is in West Street, WC2H 9NZ – nearest tube station is probably Leicester Square. Visit the official website for The Mousetrap and St Martin’sTheatre to find out more.