Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap: 70th Anniversary Tour

Yesterday I went to the Theatre Royal to see one of Christie’s most famous plays performed. I was aware of its status as the world’s longest running play, but my programme provided some further staggering statistics:

  • ‘David Raven played Major Metcalf continuously for 11 years from 1957 to 1968, clocking up 4575 performances […]’
  • ‘Nancy Seabrooke retired at the age of 79 in March 1994, having understudied Mrs Boyle for 6240 performances. The ever-patient Miss Seabrooke had been rewarded for her loyalty by going on 72 times, an annual average of five appearances in the 15 years she spent with The Mousetrap.’
  • ‘In June 1973, Adelaide Woodvine, box office manageress [at St Martin’s Theatre] for more than 20 years, retired, having sold more than £2m worth of Mousetrap tickets. Ironically, she hadn’t actually found time to see the show, an oversight she remedied shortly afterwards.’
  • ‘Even the set showed similar powers of endurance. It wasn’t until 2004 that the leather armchair, having given sterling service since 1952, was retired from active duty.’

This is the second time that I have seen The Mousetrap at Newcastle, but I went with my sister who had not seen it before (and who had for years been assiduously avoiding reading the short story the play was based on and the script itself). During my first viewing of the play a few years ago I managed to hit upon the identity of the killer in the intermission, so with the pressure off on having to solve the mystery, I was curious to see what I noticed about the play.

What follows are just some reflections I had on this performance, and this is not a review of Christie’s original play/script in particular and it would be lovely to hear about other people’s experiences of watching the play elsewhere.

However, I must warn you that beyond this point there are spoilers, so only continue reading if you have already seen or read the play.

One of the overriding thoughts I had by the interval this time round was how the mystery was being played much more for laughs. The first performance I saw a few years ago had its funny moments, but yesterday’s production seemed to crank up the comedy intensity and the actor playing the role of Christopher Wren led this comedy well. However, what drew my attention to the higher amount of humour was the way the audience reacted to the murder of Mrs Boyle, the death which closes the first act. In the first production I watched there was a strong build up of tension and drama for this killing, but I found this was not the case with the performance I saw yesterday. It is hard to say if there was an attempt to suddenly switch to drama and tension, but as the strangled cries of Mrs Boyle rung out, I heard quite a number of titters and laughs. And my reaction to this intrigued me, as internally I asked myself: Should we be laughing at this point? Mrs Boyle is not a likeable character by any stretch of the imagination, but laughing at her death which we could hear but not see, didn’t feel right. I don’t remember such laughs with the previous performance I viewed.

Yet this seems to have been one of the consequences of having comedy as the driving force of the piece; it shuts down other options. The second attempt of murder on the stage also lacked tension in the run up to it and during the attempt itself, which we could see this time. Moreover, I thought the showdown for the murderer and the wrap up of the case came across as truncated and rushed. It felt like these non-humorous parts were being hurried through so the play could return to the final comic scene in which we see the Ralstons reunite and Major Metcalf reveals who he really is. In this rushing I did wonder if there was a slip up in that Giles Ralston comes on stage to comfort his wife (who has nearly been killed by the murderer) and he mentions his shock at the fact that the man they thought was the policeman come to protect them, was in fact the culprit. Yet how does he know who is guilty as he was not part of the reveal scene and the solution wrap up? Did another character tell him off stage?

Whilst there are some characters to whom the comedy naturally gravitated towards; I would say the humour is spread out around nearly all the characters. I say nearly, as  another thing that I noticed is that Detective Sergeant Trotter is the only character who wasn’t played strongly comical like the others. This is not a bad thing per se, but I felt like it made him stand out and set apart. You could argue that is because this production is trying to get you on side with Trotter, as he faces a barrage of obstruction from the other inhabitants of Monkswell Manor guest house, and you can feel his frustration as he gives the impression of trying to solve the case. But another part of me wonders whether the way Trotter comes across as the “straight man” in this comedy, highlights a little too much the possibility that he could be the killer. My sister, like me, alighted upon him as the culprit, and this was partially due to the fact that everyone else seemed like too obvious a choice.

Nevertheless, this was a play which got everyone talking during the interval, trying to work out whodunit and it was a fun way to spend an afternoon.

But what about your experiences of The Mousetrap? Have you seen a performance which was more comedy and less tension? Have you seen a more unusual rendition of it?


  1. I brought my young children to see Mousetrap in 1981 when my family spent a month in London. We couldn’t believe our eyes when the detective appeared on stage because we knew him so well – we had been watching Flambards weekly for months where the same actor played Dick.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a similar experience when a few years ago I watched The Importance of being Earnest as Lady Bracknell was being played by David Suchet and it took me a while to forget his more famous role of Poirot on TV.


  2. I agree with your review having seen The Mousetrap at least four times on the London West End. It’s not perfect as you say, but it I enjoyed it each time nonetheless as an avid Christie fan and no doubt will see it again in the future.

    There is a bit of resurgence of interest in The Mousetrap. There will be a production for the first time on Broadway in New York this year and last year’s film, See How They Run, (also imperfect but loads of fun), a murder mystery set behind the scenes/stage of the play, triggered new ticket sales.

    There cannot be a film version of The Mousetrap as Christie’s contract said that was forbidden until the play has closed and of course, that is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I caught a matinee in London in 1985. It was something of a pilgrimage for me, and so I was disappointed to see a mere handful of people in the audience. It caused the energy of the performers to drop, and the whole thing was less exciting than I had hoped it would be. But I do have to say that during the intermission, everyone around me was trying to guess who the killer was – and they were all wrong!

    I’m holding auditions for my own production of the Mousetrap next week, and I have been thinking a lot about the humor. I recognize that modern audiences might find the whole affair rather silly, but I intend to play it straight as much as possible. I think the point you make about making everyone except Trotter silly is an excellent one. For me, Mr. Paravicini is the true comic relief, and even he should make the audience wonder. As there are really no clues, this is more of a thriller – and it should thrill!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sorry to hear about your underwhelming viewing of The Mousetrap. There were not many spare seats left in the performance that I watched, so perhaps times have changed.
      Very exciting to hear that you will producing The Mousetrap!
      Mr Paravicini’s comic relief role was possibly upstaged or at least equaled by Christoper Wren in the performance I saw this week.


  4. The lack of comic lightness to the murderer in The Mousetrap may add to the plot’s transparency, but I don’t think that’s its biggest plot problem.

    I believe there’s a vulnerability to any mystery story which is dependent for its aspect of surprise upon the reader/viewer never even entertaining the possibility of the culprit’s guilt prior to its revelation— that is, a story entailing a culprit who is apparently categorically above suspicion due to his ostensible function in the story (narrator, detective, apparent intended victim, child, etc..).

    The people who are surprised by the solution to The Mousetrap are primarily those who never considered the possibility that the culprit COULD have been the murderer, because they did not include him in the set of possible suspects. Unfortunately, since most people are aware of a mystery writer’s aim to surprise the viewer, most people also tend to consider every character as a possible suspect. Thus, such stories as The Mousetrap, while providing impressive thunderbolts of surprise to those they DO fool, are not as likely to fool as many people as other stories not vulnerable in this way. And Then There Were None, Five Little Pigs, Cards on the Table, Death on the Nile, Curtain, Murder on the Orient Express, and Evil Under the Sun are all examples of Christie works that are not burdened with this vulnerability.

    The other primary plot weakness of this play is its dearth of significant clueing. An average episode of Murder, She Wrote provides more clues to the solution than this Christie play, and that’s not something we really want to say about one of the most ingenious puzzle plotters of all time.

    I don’t think it’s much of a play. But I just say, the crew at the St. Martin’s really give it their all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I can see that The Mousetrap does not fare well if you follow the least likely suspect train of thought. I wonder also if it is a great play to see once, but perhaps there is less to get out of it on subsequent viewings, than with some of Christie’s other plays. Which Christie play do you think has the best re-watch-ability?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, THE UNEXPECTED GUEST is my favorite Christie play, based on its clever use of a deception device that had earlier been used by Anthony Berkeley, and recently by Rian Johnson in KNIVES OUT. But I don’t think even the best of her plays come anywhere close to the ingenuity of her novels.

        And as for THE MOUSETRAP, I think it rather fails both on the surprise axis and the inevitability axis– – it’s not just predictable, but also extremely thinly clued. What it does have going forward is a bit of nice suspense in the second act and some amusing characters. But that’s not enough to justify nearly two hours in a theatre for me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I have not seen The Unexpected Guests yet. Just Love from a Stranger, Witness for the Prosecution, And Then There Were None and The Mousetrap. I shall have to look out for the one you mention. Hopefully a touring company may take it on in the next few years.


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