The definition of a Londoner, it could be said, is someone who hasn’t seen The Mousetrap, the world’s longest running stage play, having played over 25,000 performances since opening in November 1952 over six months before the Queen’s Coronation.
Written by Agatha Christie as a radio play entitled Three Blind Mice and broadcast in 1947, she rewrote the whodunit for the stage and The Mousetrap was first seen exactly 60 years ago this week, opening at The Ambassadors Theatre on 25th November 1952 before transferring to its present location, the beautiful St. Martin’s Theatre next door 22 years later.
The play entered the record books on 12th April 1958 becoming the longest running show in the history of the British theatre (shows didn’t have the longevity they do today).
The first leading roles were played by Sir Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim and over time 382 actors have appeared in its production. David Raven entered the Guinness Book of Records as the ‘Most Durable Actor’ for his 4,575 performances as Major Metcalf and spare a thought for the late Nancy Seabrook who spent 15 years as an understudy.
Even the scenery must hold some kind of record lasting 50 years before being replaced in 2000, without a loss of a single performance, still faithful the original design.
I saw the play in the late 60’s (does that make me a non-Londoner?), and you expected the entire production to appear in black-and-white as the set and dialogue was reminiscent of the early British films.
The theatre seats 550 and in the foyer many tourists have themselves photographed by a wooden sign informing the audience how many performances have appeared on stage. Most don’t go to see the play for it is part of the London experience with the audience as much a part of the proceedings as the cast.
The person who probably has the best experience of The Mousetrap has to be Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, to whom she gave the rights to the play on his 9th birthday.
The producer and promoter of the original production was Peter Saunders, married to Katie Boyle who in the 1960’s presented The Eurovision Song Contest which brought viewers attention to the memorable line ‘Nul points’ – strange that.