As the legendary whodunnit returns to the London stage with a cast including Danny Mac, Cassidy Janson and Derek Griffiths, we look at the facts and figures behind the theatrical phenomenon
When the world’s longest-running show reopens at London’s St Martin’s Theatre this month, Agatha Christie’s record-breaking murder mystery will be celebrating its 29,000th performance in the capital since it premiered in the early 1950s.
The London production was shuttered on March 16 last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, marking the first unscheduled halting of the show in its 68-year history. When the ageing set was replaced, to the exact same specifications as the original in 2000, it was done over a weekend without the cancellation of a single performance and the only other times it didn’t play on usual performances days are Millennium Eve and the opening of the 2012 London Olympics.
"The pandemic marked its first unscheduled halting of the show in its 68-year history"
The Mousetrap was originally a radio play called Three Blind Mice, which Christie penned as a birthday gift for Queen Mary in 1947. She then wrote it up as a short story (which has so far only been published in the US) before expanding it into a stage play.
The world premiere wasn’t in London, it was in Nottingham at the Theatre Royal on October 6, 1952. After a UK tour, The Mousetrap opened at The Ambassadors Theatre, which was home to the show for its first 22 years—spectacularly defying its author’s prediction that it would only run for eight months.
In 1957, it usurped Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit as the West End’s longest-runner, prompting Coward to send Christie a telegram (which was found in a desk in 2011 by a furniture restorer) where he quipped: “Much as it pains me I really must congratulate you on The Mousetrap breaking the long-run record.”
Nancy Seabrooke, who understudied the character of Mrs Boyle for 15 years and only got to go on 72 times before stepping down in 1994, holds the record for the world’s longest serving understudy. David Raven was hailed by the Guinness Book of Records as “Most Durable Actor” for playing Major Metcalfe for 4,575 performances. And Christie remains the only female playwright to have had three plays running simultaneously in the West End (in 1954, with the other two being Witness for the Prosecution and Spider’s Web).
"The world premiere wasn't in London, but Nottingham"
Agatha Christie's books
More than 460 actors and over 260 understudies have been gainfully employed by the whodunnit, with Richard Attenborough and his wife Sheila Sim being the first performers to take on the roles of Detective Sergeant Trotter and Mollie Ralston in the West End.
Casts may have come and gone but the small clock on the mantelpiece is here to stay. It’s the only original remaining prop, while the newscaster’s voice that opens act one is still that of Deryck Guyler. The actor, who went on to appear in the likes of A Hard Day’s Night and Please Sir! before his passing in 1999, prerecorded the newscast for the Nottingham production and it’s been used at every performance since.
When The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh attended the 50th anniversary performance in November 2002, Richard Attenborough made a return appearance—not as Trotter but to give a speech at the curtain call. Ten years later, the 60th anniversary was marked by an all-star cast that included Julie Walters, Hugh Bonneville, Patrick Stewart and Tamsin Greig.
"The play was held at Wormwood Scrubs Prison in 1959, during which two prisoners managed to escape"
Other productions have been mounted in Singapore, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and across Europe. The most unusual location? Wormwood Scrubs Prison, where the cast gave a one-off performance on March 15, 1959, during which two prisoners managed to escape.
The Mousetrap is now back at The St Martin’s Theatre, London. For more information go here.
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