It’s a question that will often come up in post-show Q&As: just what is it about The Mousetrap that has made it such an extraordinary stage phenomenon?
Edward Elgood, who plays Christopher Wren in the show (The Capitol, Horsham, October 5-10), reckons each of the actors will probably come up with a different answer.
“It has got all the elements that make up a classic whodunit, but the success of various other Agatha Christie works (on TV) that came later with Miss Marple and Poirot have, I think, been extremely helpful in expanding the lifespan of The Mousetrap. They have helped create and continue the immense popularity surrounding Agatha Christie.”
The show has been in London for a remarkable 63 years. To mark its 60th anniversary, the play went out on tour for the first time, and it’s that tour, three years on, which now brings it to West Sussex.
As for London, Edward accepts it has now probably more than gained its own momentum. He knows the current producer and knows the current producer certainly wouldn’t ever end it all the while he’s in charge: “No one would ever want to be the person who stopped The Mousetrap!
“But actually it was 20 years before they decided to move it to a bigger theatre in London because they finally decided they had a big hit on their hands! I think back then more risks could be taken in the theatre world just to keep it going, keep it going, but actually it was selling out. For anything to run for that length of time nowadays just wouldn’t be commercially viable, though…
“But I think the success is also that the play is just so quintessentially British. It harks back to an era, post-war, that was perhaps a bit more light-hearted with a sense of relief and release after the war. But it has also got superbly-individualised characters. They are more than 2D. They have all got their motives and their stories that explain why they are there. Agatha Christie gives you the back-stories and the actors can bring them out.”
The point is Christie is a much better playwright than people give her credit for: “And they say that The Mousetrap isn’t even her best work. I think she is a phenomenal playwright without a shadow of a doubt. When you are working on a play, there will sometimes be lines where you are thinking ‘I am not sure why I am saying that!’ But with Christie, everything you say, you know exactly why you are saying it.
“Apparently she didn’t even know who the murderer was when she started writing it. She set it all up and got half way through and then just followed the logic, just to see where it was going to go.”
Part also of its success is that it is not imbalanced by one big character, a Marple or a Poirot: “It is very much an ensemble piece. We are all equal.”
And completing the magic is the great pact it makes with its audience whom it swears to secrecy at the end: “We invite the people in, and we make allies of them all. They play the game with us, and they are trying to guess who did it. They feel they are part of the show’s great history and this great conspiracy that they are not allowed to give the game away after they have seen it!”
Edward joined the tour in April and will see it through to the end, Chichester its final dates: “It has been great. It has gone wonderfully well. It’s brilliant to be able to take a production like this around the country. There are so many theatres in this country that I have always had a desire to perform in, and to be able to do loads of them in one fell swoop is just amazing!”
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