Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap has been on the stage as long as the Queen has been on the throne. When it had its premiere on 25 November 1952, Churchill was prime minister and food was still rationed in Britain. Now in its 49th year, the play has been seen by more than 10 million people, been performed in 45 countries around the world and been translated into 24 languages. The West End production alone has featured nearly 300 actors (for an eight-strong cast), 136 understudies and, on the evening I attended, was nearing its 20,000th performance, making it, by far, the longest running play in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records.
Without a doubt, The Mousetrap is a little piece of history. That aside, however, if truth be told, it is not a very good play.
Young married couple Giles (Andrew Ryan) and Mollie (Bryonie Pritchard) have inherited a ramshackle old manor and are having a go at running a country B&B. Enter an odd assortment of characters for the opening weekend of business, followed quickly by a heavy snowstorm which leaves all stranded and irate. Moods sour further when a skiing police sergeant (Joseph Morton) shows up and reveals that there is a murderer amongst them - one who has already struck once and has designs on two of them. But how are they all connected? Who is the murderer and who the next victim? How well do they all know each other anyway, even the happy couple?
This might have been gripping stuff at the centre of the century, especially when the production attracted dramatic luminaries such as Sir Richard Attenborough. But the play is now regarded in the profession as an actor's graveyard rather than a career enhancer, with the result of universally lacklustre performances. Still, to be fair, the actors can't really help the fact that, over the course of the inordinately long run, many of their parts have become the most hackneyed of cliches. (The smooth but mysteriously sinister foreign man with indeterminant, Vlad the Impaler type accent, for instance.)
For all its predictability, the one thing about The Mousetrap that remains unpredictable is the ending. Christie certainly was one for surprise twists. I'm not telling of course. I'm sworn to secrecy, as are all audience members at the end of each production when the murderer him(or her!)self entreats the house to join the conspiracy of silence.
So if you want to find out whodunnit, you'll have to go. It's not the most thrilling evening but that may be a small price to pay to become a part of history.