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The play began life as a short radio play broadcast on 30 May 1947 called Three Blind Mice in honour of Queen Mary, the consort of King George V. The play had its origins in the real-life case of the death of a boy, Dennis O'Neill, who died while in the foster care of a Shropshire farmer and his wife in 1945.
The play is based on a short story, itself based on the radio play, but Christie asked that the story not be published as long as it ran as a play in the West End of London. The short story has still not been published within the United Kingdom but it has appeared in the United States in the 1950 collection Three Blind Mice and Other Stories.
When she wrote the play, Christie gave the rights to her grandson Mathew Pritchard as a birthday present. Outside of the West End, only one version of the play can be performed annually and under the contract terms of the play, no film adaptation can be produced until the West End production has been closed for at least six months.
The play had to be renamed at the insistence of Emile Littler who had produced a play called Three Blind Mice in the West End before the Second World War. The suggestion to call it The Mousetrap came from Christie's son-in-law, Anthony Hicks. In Shakespeare's play Hamlet, "The Mousetrap" is Hamlet's answer to Claudius's inquiry about the name of the play whose prologue and first scene the court has just observed (III, ii). The play is actually The Murder of Gonzago, but Hamlet answers metaphorically, since "the play's the thing" in which he intends to "catch the conscience of the king."
The play's longevity has ensured its popularity with tourists from around the world, and in 1997, with producer Stephen Waley-Cohen, it helped spawn a theatrical education charity, Mousetrap Theatre Projects, which helps young people experience London's theatre.
Tom Stoppard's play The Real Inspector Hound parodies many elements of The Mousetrap, including the surprise ending.
Theatrical performancesAs a stage play, The Mousetrap had its world premiere at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham on 6 October 1952. It was originally directed by Peter Cotes, elder brother of John and Roy Boulting, the film directors. Its pre-West End tour then took it to the New Theatre Oxford, the Manchester Opera House, the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, the Grand Theatre Leeds and the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham before it began its run in London on 25 November 1952 at the New Ambassadors Theatre . It ran at this theatre until Saturday, 23 March 1974 when it immediately transferred to the St Martin's Theatre, next door, where it reopened on Monday, 25 March thus keeping its "initial run" status. As of 13 October 2014 it has clocked up a record-breaking 25,000 performances, with the play still running at St Martin's Theatre. The director of the play for many years has been David Turner. Christie herself did not expect The Mousetrap to run for such a long time. In her autobiography, she reports a conversation that she had with Peter Saunders: "Fourteen months I am going to give it", says Saunders. To which Christie replies, "It won't run that long. Eight months perhaps. Yes, I think eight months." When it broke the record for the longest run of a play in the West End in September 1957, Christie received a mildly grudging telegram from fellow playwright Noël Coward: "Much as it pains me I really must congratulate you ..." In 2011 (by which time The Mousetrap had been running for almost 59 years) this long-lost document was found by a Cotswold furniture maker who was renovating a bureau purchased by a client from the Christie estate.
The original West End cast included Richard Attenborough as Detective Sergeant Trotter and his wife Sheila Sim as Mollie Ralston. They took a 10% profit-participation in the production, which was paid for out of their combined weekly salary ("It proved to be the wisest business decision I've ever made... but foolishly I sold some of my share to open a short-lived Mayfair restaurant called 'The Little Elephant' and later still, disposed of the remainder in order to keep Gandhi afloat.")
Since the retirement of Mysie Monte and David Raven, who each made history by remaining in the cast for more than 11 years, in their roles as Mrs Boyle and Major Metcalf, the cast has been changed annually. The change usually occurs around late November around the anniversary of the play's opening, and was the initiative of Sir Peter Saunders, the original producer. There is a tradition of the retiring leading lady and the new leading lady cutting a "Mousetrap cake" together.
The play has also made theatrical history by having an original "cast member" survive all the cast changes since its opening night. The late Deryck Guyler can still be heard, via a recording, reading the radio news bulletin in the play to this present day. The set has been changed in 1965 and 1999, but one prop survives from the original opening – the clock which sits on the mantelpiece of the fire in the main hall. Notable milestones in the play's history include:
- 22 April 1955 – 1,000th performance
- 13 September 1957 – Longest-ever run of a "straight" play in the West End
- 12 April 1958 – Longest-ever run of a show in the West End with 2239 performances (the previous holder was Chu Chin Chow)
- 9 December 1964 – 5,000th performance
- 17 December 1976 – 10,000th performance
- 16 December 2000 – 20,000th performance
- 25 November 2002 – 50th anniversary; a special performance was attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
- 18 November 2012 – 25,000th performance
In May 2001 (during the London production's 49th year, and to mark the 25th anniversary of Christie's death) the cast gave a semi-staged Sunday performance at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff-on-Sea as a guest contribution to the Agatha Christie Theatre Festival 2001, a twelve-week history-making cycle of all of Agatha Christie's plays presented by Roy Marsden's New Palace Theatre Company.
A staging at the Toronto Truck Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, that opened on 19 August 1
977 became Canada's longest running show, before finally closing on 18 January 2004 after a run of twenty-six years and over 9,000 performances.
On 18th November 2012, both the 25,000th performance and the 60th year of the production were marked by a special, charity performance that featured Hugh Bonneville, Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters and Miranda Hart. The money raised by the performance went towards Mousetrap Theatre Projects.
- Mollie Ralston – Proprietor of Monkswell Manor, and wife of Giles.
- Giles Ralston – Husband of Mollie who runs Monkswell Manor with his wife.
- Christopher Wren – The first guest to arrive at the hotel, Wren is a hyperactive young man who acts in a very peculiar manner. He admits he is running away from something, but refuses to say what. Wren claims to have been named after the architect of the same name by his parents.
- Mrs Boyle – A critical older woman who is pleased by nothing she observes.
- Major Metcalf – Retired from the army, little is known about Major Metcalf.
- Miss Casewell – A strange, aloof, masculine woman who speaks offhandedly about the horrific experiences of her childhood.
- Mr Paravicini – A man of unknown provenance, who turns up claiming his car has overturned in a snowdrift. He appears to be affecting a foreign accent and artificially aged with make-up.
- Detective Sergeant Trotter – A policeman who arrives in a snow storm saying he has come to protect the guests from the murderer.
The play is set in the Great Hall of Monkswell Manor. The time – the present (1952).
- Act I
- Scene 1 – Late afternoon.
A woman has been murdered in London. A young couple, Mollie and Giles Ralston, have started a guest house in the converted Monkswell Manor. Their first four guests arrive: Christopher Wren, Mrs. Boyle, Major Metcalf and Miss Casewell. Mrs. Boyle complains about everything, and Giles offers to cancel her stay, but she refuses the offer. They become snowed in together and read in the newspaper of the murder. An additional traveller, Mr. Paravicini, arrives stranded after he ran his car into a snowdrift, but he makes his hosts uneasy.
- Scene 2 – The following day after lunch.
The imposing Mrs. Boyle complains to the other guests, first to Metcalf and then to Miss Casewell, who both try to get away from her. Wren comes into the room claiming to have fled Mrs. Boyle in the library. Shortly afterwards, the police call on the phone, creating great alarm amongst the guests. Mrs. Boyle suggests that Mollie check Wren's references. Detective Sergeant Trotter arrives on skis to inform the group that he believes a murderer is at large and on his way to the hotel, following the death of Mrs Maureen Lyon in London. When Mrs Boyle is killed, they realise that the murderer is already there.
- Act II
Ten minutes later, the investigation is ongoing. Each character is scrutinised and suspected. Mollie and Giles get into a fight, and Chris Wren and Giles argue over who should protect Mollie. Suspicion falls first on Christopher Wren, an erratic young man who fits the description of the supposed murderer. However, it quickly transpires that the killer could be any one of the guests, or even the hosts themselves. The characters re-enact the second murder, trying to prevent a third.
At last, Sergeant Trotter assembles everyone in the hall with the plan to set a trap for one of the suspects.
Identity of the murderer
Unlike some other Encyclopedia internet pages, we shall not divulge the identity of the murderer, but shall stick to the 60 year old tradition of keeping it a secret.
By tradition, at the end of each performance, audiences are asked not to reveal the identity of the killer to anyone outside the theatre, to ensure that the end of the play is not spoiled for future audiences. Christie was always upset by the plots of her works being revealed in reviews, and in 2010 her grandson Matthew Prichard, who receives the royalties from the play, was "dismayed" to learn from The Independent that the ending to The Mousetrap was revealed online in the play's Wikipedia article.
The play was published as a paperback by Samuel French Ltd as French's Acting Edition No. 153 in 1954 and is still in print. It was first published in hardback in The Mousetrap and Other Plays by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1993 (ISBN 0-39-607631-9) and in the UK by Harper Collins in 1993 (ISBN 0-00-224344-X).