“ On stage at St Martin's Theatre, West Street, London, WC2H 9NZ, England. „
I had my 30th birthday recently and decided I'd finally go and watch The Mousetrap. I'd wanted to see it for a while, being a big fan of Whodunnits, and it certainly didn't disappoint. This may even be the best thing I've ever seen on stage, though of course you can't really compare this to something like one of Lloyd Webbers musicals. They are just completely different types of performance.
Let's start with a bit of the history, which is actually very interesting in itself. First off, this show is the longest running of any kind, in the world, ever, which tells you something about how good it is. This year is its diamond jubilee, so it's been on stage for as long as the Queen has worn her crown. In fact, if London is a bit of a trek for you, check out their website, as the show is going on tour for its 60th anniversary celebrations, and you may be able to see it somewhere more local to you: www.the-mousetrap.co.uk
There have now been more than 24,000 performances, and if you go and watch it at its home of 35 years, St Martin's Theatre, you will see an electronic screen in the foyer which will tell you the exact performance number you'll be watching.
To give you a few interesting facts from the website: in its 60 years, there have been 382 actors and actresses appearing in the play (even though the cast only includes 8 characters), 116 miles of shirts have been ironed and over 415 tons of ice cream have been sold.
Most impressively, the set has only been replaced once during its entire 35 year run at St Martin's Theatre, to the same design as the original, and it was replaced over a weekend with no loss of performances!
It's hard to explain exactly why this particular play is so popular, but I think it's very impressive that in 60 years, the mystery of who the killer is remains a well-kept secret. This is partly due to the fact that a cast member asks you at the end of the play to 'keep the secret close to your heart,' in order to keep the performance alive. Apparently people respect this wish.
The Mousetrap began life as a radio play entitled Three Blind Mice, written in honour of Queen Mary, consort of King George V, and broadcast in 1947. It was then made into a short story with the same title, but Agatha Christie requested that the story was never published as long as the play was still running; as a result it has never been published in the UK, though it is available in the States. The story is based on a real life case- the death of a young boy in the care of a farmer and his wife in 1945.
I'm sure that even if you've never read an Agatha Christie story, you will still be familiar with the structure of a murder mystery, the chosen genre of The Queen of Crime. The play more or less follows this typical structure- we are first introduced to each of the relevant characters, who all become suspects when a murder is committed about halfway through the play. After the murder the policeman who is present begins to interview all the suspects and eventually the truth is revealed, though not until the very end, so you have plenty of time to work it out for yourself.
As I said, the story is based on the real life case I mentioned. The idea is that somebody in London has been murdered right at the beginning of the play, and offstage, and the story is in all the newspapers and on the radio. The stage setting is a newly-opened guest house run by a young couple, and each guest arrives in turn on this, their opening night, from a dark, cold and snowy evening.
What is really clever about the stage set is that it remains the same throughout the entire play, and is deceptively simple.The whole stage is taken up by the living room of the guest house, with a log fire in one corner, which actually glows cosily when stoked up, a couple of overstuffed chairs, a sofa and a few rugs. However, exiting to the wings are several doors which we are told lead to different rooms of the house, or upstairs to the guests' bedrooms. You can't help believing that the drawing room really is off to the right hand side, and that the kitchen disappears off to stage left. At the back is an opening window which, whenever it is opened, swings open and shut violently in the stormy weather from 'outside.' To add to the atmosphere, each character arrives bundled up in a coat, scarf and hat with 'snow' covering their clothes. To add the finishing touches, lamps are switched on at 'night-time,' creating the illusion of the passing of time.
Added to this very clever stage set is the subtle humour and some tremendous acting. Every conversation I overheard during the interval related to everyone's various theories on the killer. Just enough is revealed before the interval for you to be able to speculate before sitting back down. I didn't guess the killer, personally, but two of my family did, and when I went back in to the second half I realised that they were probably right.
Unfortunately the killer is revealed in the Wikipedia article relating to this play, so if you don't want to know then DON'T READ IT! I'm very glad I didn't look at the article before watching The Mousetrap, as it reveals the killer without any warning that it is about to do so, following on, as it does, from a paragraph about how the audience are asked not to reveal the killer for the sake of future audiences! Slightly ironic and totally unnecessary, I think!
One last point to mention is that St Martin's is an old theatre, so there isn't a lot of legroom, but it was just about comfortable enough for my fiancé, who is 6'2". If you're any taller, I recommend asking for a seat at the end of an aisle!
Ticket prices are between £16 and £41 and performances are Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm with a matinee at 3pm on Tuesdays and 4pm on Saturdays. You can book on the web address provided above.
Someone once said that the great thing about sex was the even when it was bad, it was still good. You can make your own minds up on that one, but I would contend that the same does not apply to theatre. When it's not good, its rubbish.
The thing is, I am a big fan of live theatre. I think cinema has its place and it does things that theatre can not and I also value TV: But I do not think that either TV or cinema can ever completely substitute for live theatre, for being there with the actors, sharing a space, breathing the same air.
When it is good, it is great. I have seen companies from the RSC to a little amateur company in a room above a pub give performances that were spellbinding - clichés, it is true, but you really could have heard a pin drop as the whole audience seemed collectively to hold its breath.
Sadly, it is not always good. I have walked out of a couple of productions in my time (although I do try to do so in the interval when I can - I don't want to embarrass anyone. I remember the time my whole party of 10 people decided to sneak out of a really dreadful performance at one theatre, only to meet all the principal cast members who were at the back of the auditorium, waiting to make an entrance through the audience - oops!).
You forgive the school production and you maybe cut some slack for amateur home town stuff, but if you visit a London theatre to see a professional company and you pay well for the privilege, you are entitled to expect something in return.
Sadly, in my opinion, The Mousetrap is not good.
This is a whodunit. I would call it a 'classic whodunit' only it's not a classic - it's just old. There is a cast of characters brought together by unlikely circumstance, mainly not known to one another and it will be no surprise to you to know that someone dies and they have to try and work out who did the dreadful deed - oh, and there are plenty of potential perpetrators, too. In other words, this is basically the same plot that Agatha Christie wrote again and again. Most of you will have read at least one or two of the books (and some of you will have read 80 or more) and almost all of you will have seen one or more of the film adaptations and probably one or more of the TV versions, too. Many of those productions were better than this, better acted, better dialogue, much better scenery, brought up to date with all of the glamour, glitz and trickery a modern production can bring to bear, in other words more watcheable. This tired old play with a crust forming on its dialogue, with a plot so hackneyed that it is well beyond parody, with its total lack of tension or suspense - this is not Agatha's finest hour.
I'm not going to tell you who did it, not even a hint. One of the worst things about this evening is I didn't really care. This is not bad, as a play, it is just not good. It looks as though the author might have knocked it up in the restaurant car of the train from Torquay back up to London in the 1930's - it is a thoroughly disposable and unmemorable piece of theatre - and she gave it to a Godson as a gift, probably thinking it would run for 12 months and make him a few hundred - never in her wildest dreams, I am sure, thinking it would become the longest running piece of theatre in Britain.
If you go to the theatre much, you will recognise that some pieces are written of and for their time, intended to be consumed and thrown away like a topical magazine. Some pieces rise above this, having relevance to an audience decades or even centauries after they were written - they are classics. This is not a classic - it's just old. Why is it still on, you might wonder? Because it has been on for a long time, is the only likely answer. No-one has taken it off because it has continued to sell and for years now we have all known that it was on and it had been on longer than anything else, so we book tickets and go because it must be good (mustn't it?) because it is still on and everyone goes so it stays on! It is an Emperor's new clothes event. The theatre will never take it off, because it sells because it did sell.
The venue is OK, more modern and more accommodating than some London theatres, easy to find. Be aware, if you take a cab to the theatre, that taxi drivers have been known to tell you who the murderer is before driving off if you don't tip them.
When I was there, almost the entire front three rows were empty and I would imagine that these tickets were held by ticket touts or maybe the concierge of some of the better hotels, so that they could readily get customers in to see this play. The absence of people in these rows would have damaged the atmosphere (if there had been one) and it increased the feeling of separation between cast and audience.
Before the production commenced, my partner commented on how unusual it was to see a theatre auditorium almost all in polished wood - not flock wallpaper or gilt, but just plain wood. By the interval, we had both agreed that the wood was quite appropriate, as the dialogue was largely wooden also. To be fair, there was nothing in particular wrong with the acting, but frankly Burton and Taylor or Brad and Angelina could not have spun magic from this straw: It's just not very good.
Good news? Well, by London theatre prices, it is fairly cheap. You can get tickets without waiting a whole year, you can probably plan to go and see it in 2025 if you want, there is no nudity, swearing or the like, you could take your mother in law and maiden aunty - but its really, really not worth. Spend even less and go and see an amateur production somewhere - there is a fair chance, better than odds on I would say, that you will be more entertained and for less money. Or spend more and go and see a production of something you will be taking about for years to come. Just don't get caught in the trap.
Originally published on Ciao by me under the same username.