by Agatha Christie
Tomorrow night (November 25, 2022), is the seventieth anniversary of when a charming little murder mystery by a much-admired playwright opened in the West End theater district of London.
When the ushers of the Ambassadors Theatre opened the doors, Agatha Christie’s enthusiastic fans were waiting for the first London performance of The Mousetrap. The murder mystery had premiered the month before at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, and the newspaper reviews had declared the event a “momentous occasion.”
From that night and every night since – except from March 16, 2020, to May 17, 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic – the play has been performed without interruption. Even when the venue changed from the Ambassadors Theatre to the St. Martin’s Theatre circa 2010.
This postcard has inspired this article. It was created in 1982 by the Valdate company in Kidderminster, England. It is one (No. 729) of a limited edition of one-thousand cards, for the 30th anniversary of the first London performance. The card is now a decade older than the event it celebrated.
The Mousetrap has a cast of eight characters: Mollie Ralston, Giles Ralston, Christopher Wren, Mrs. Boyle, Major Metcalf, Miss Casewell, Mr. Paravicini, and Detective Sergeant Trotter. The caption states that the production had been proclaimed the world’s longest running play. It had just concluded its 47,500th performance. Through the years more than four hundred actors and actresses had played the roles. The world renowned, Richard Attenborough was the original Detective Sergeant Trotter, and his wife Sheila Sim, the first Mollie Ralston – the character who is owner of Monkswell Manor guesthouse, the scene of the crime.
Most theater and mystery devotees know Dame Agatha’s other serial characters, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot and because they do, attending a performance of Mousetrap seems very comfortable. Everything seems to be familiar. The set is in a country guesthouse with paneled walls that hide secret passages that link to other rooms.
Early on the audience learns that a blizzard is in progress and the snow has blocked all the roads. The telephones aren’t working; and on the radio there a police-bulletins about a murderer on a rampage. None of the guests know each other and each has his/her own secret. Their secrets are the kinds we have all learned that Christie uses to weave her tales full of twists and dead ends.
Mollie and Giles Ralston, the owners of the guesthouse are a bit nervous about their first attempt at running a new business. Mrs. Boyle is a no-nonsense personality (much like Miss Marple), who provides much of the gallows humor and general pathos. Miss Casewell and Mr. Paravicini are characters that remind us of Hercule Poirot and his conversations with any unmarried, twenty-something career woman. Christopher Wren is there for comic relief, and so is the retired Army Major Metcalf. The role of Police Sergeant Trotter is to put all of the clues together and draw the attention of the audience to the obvious.
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Of the reviews read for this article, not one critic missed an opportunity to urge their readers to see The Mousetrap even if you are not an Agatha Christie fan. It is a wonderful “who done it” mystery that is guaranteed to make you want to be an amateur police detective. With endless twists and turns, the audience is kept on the edge of their seats. But, remember everyone, even members of the audience are suspect!