The Mousetrap



  • A murder mystery by Agatha Christie that has becomethe longest continuously running play in theatrical history. It openedat London's Ambassadors Theatre in 1952 and ran there for 8862 performancesbefore transferring in 1974 to St Martin's Theatre, where it is stillshowing. It has been seen by more than 10 million people, including nineBritish prime ministers and ten US presidents. During the play's run audiencesare said to have consumed over 395 tons of ice cream and 80,000 gallonsof drinks; backstage staff are thought to have ironed around 100 miles ofshirts.

    Christie wrote the piece in one week in 1947 as a 20-minuteradio play called Three Blind Mice, which was broadcast tomark the 80th birthday of Queen Mary. The BBC had offered to broadcastanything the queen wanted to hear, and she had requested a new Christieplay. As there was already a play called Three Blind Mice,Christie's son-in-law, Anthony Hicks, suggested The Mousetrapas a title, this being an allusion to the play-within-a-play in Hamlet(III, ii). Initially The Mousetrap received poor reviews, butthe producer, Peter Cotes, and the gloomy cast, headed by RichardAttenborough and his wife Sheila Sim, received encouragement fromChristie who said: "Don't worry children, I'm sure we will geta nice little run out of it." She gave the play's copyrightto her grandson Matthew as a tenth birthday present.

    The show's longevity has owed much to its popularity withUS and other tourists to London. Cunningly, the producers banned Broadwayproductions or any US road shows until the end of the London run.The ban also applies to Australia, but the play has been staged in44 other countries in 24 languages. The British film producers EddieSmall and Victor Saville paid £5,000 each for the film rightsto The Mousetrap with a proviso that no film could be madeuntil the play finished its London run. Both Small and Saville arenow dead.

    In 1981 The Mousetrap became the first West End playto be performed for an audience made up entirely of deaf people, beingtranslated into sign language by interpreters at the side of the stage.In November 2002 the play celebrated its 50th anniversarywith a special performance in front of the Queen.