As the longest-running play in the world heads to the North East on its first (official) tour, BARBARA HODGSON investigates how murder-mystery period piece The Mousetrap still snares modern day audiences
IT’S been keeping its secret now for 60 years, relying apparently on the sheer goodwill of those in the know not to spoil it for others.
The Mousetrap, the world’s longest-running play whose London staging night after night has become the stuff of legends, famously has a twist at its end that audiences are politely requested not to reveal so that future theatre-goers can also enjoy the surprise.
OK, so in these internet-savvy days it would be a mini miracle – or at least a mystery worthy of its author Agatha Christie – if you could not discover it at the click of your computer mouse.
But short of a Google search, the “big reveal” has certainly eluded me – though not for much longer as the murder mystery is on its first national tour – in celebration of its Diamond Jubilee – which includes three North East dates.
The first is at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle where it will run from February 11-16 with tickets apparently having sold well from the off, followed by runs at Darlington and Sunderland later in the year.
So, how is it that a play which surely by now is a dusty period piece remains so popular that hordes of tourists include it on their to-do list alongside the top sights in the capital, where it has been running as long as the Queen (who attended its Golden Jubilee performance 10 years ago) has been on the throne?
Well, the enduring popularity of its author Agatha Christie, who died in 1976 at the age of 85, is a part of the fabric of our society. You have only to flick through the TV channels to find a nightly episode featuring one or other of her famous detective creations: Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple.
They’re also a staple of the Christmas viewing schedule, their restoring of good over evil in the drawing room denouements providing comfort food in today’s uncertain times.
The Mousetrap is typical Christie fare: a murder-mystery classic with an intricate plot, set in a snowed-in manor house (converted to a guesthouse) where police set a trap for a killer.
Its origins are linked to another queen: Queen Mary who had apparently asked for a piece by Christie, a novelist and playwright whose stories she liked, to be included in a special evening of radio programmes in 1947 to mark her 80th birthday.
Christie came up with a story based on a real-life case from two years earlier of a 12-year-old boy who died in foster care and the play made its radio debut that year under the title Three Blind Mice.
Soon afterwards, the author saw the potential in developing the half-hour piece into a full theatre play but, as its original title clashed with that of another already in existence, she changed its title. It was apparently her son-in-law who suggested The Mousetrap, which comes from Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet when the Prince offers it as the name of the play-within-the-play which draws parallels with his father’s murder
(Incidentally Shakespeare’s works and The Bible are believed to be the only books to outsell Christie’s billions of copies across the world).