Audiences come in from the cold: The Mousetrap returns to the West End

We report from the opening of the world’s longest-running play

Susan Penhaligon, Paul Hilliar and Derek Griffiths
Susan Penhaligon, Paul Hilliar and Derek Griffiths
© Tristram Kenton

"I had the dubious distinction of being the first producer to shut The Mousetrap", Adam Spiegel announced on stage before the curtains lifted once more on Agatha Christie's murder mystery institution.

A few numbers are quintessential in the world of theatre – 24601, 525600, 96000 – but for fans of the 69 year-old classic, 28200 can be added to the list. Back in March 2020, it's unlikely that anyone would have thought anything of it – a new notch on the massive tally that the West End legendary piece has acquired. But for anyone heading to the venue and seeing that sight last night, the sign saying 28200 performances definitely felt like a small ushering in of something special.

Of course, no one would for a second say the theatre community has sat idly by during the pandemic – every day here at WOS we've covered innovation, creation and entertainment, generated in the direst of circumstances.

Theatre did not "stop" simply because we could no longer sit together and watch shows live – we've perched behind our laptops, or beamed shows onto our TVs. Pilot events, test shows, Covid-secure dress rehearsals: whatever has been permitted has been attempted.

The board in the foyer of The Mousetrap
The board in the foyer of The Mousetrap
© Caroline Ralfe

The arts world has not been defined by its apathy, but by its resourcefulness in the face of utter adversity. The Mousetrap's reopening is one standing on the shoulders of so many giants, Spiegel included, who decided to say "yes", rather than "maybe", or "not possible".

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and, seeing the world's longest running play after many months of absence definitely gave it a new lease of life – aided by a cast clearly revelling in the fact that they get to aid real spectators.

As for risk mitigation – most venues are very much a dab hand these days: temperature checks, staggered entries (an empty foyer is an incredibly reassuring first sight when you arrive), and, of course, the much discussed socially distanced seating.

At St Martin's Theatre everything was immensely well spaced – rows in the circle were left unoccupied, two or three seats were left between audience bubbles. You felt gallons safer than outside on the busy Covent Garden street.

There are dozens of plays and musicals across the country welcoming back audiences over the coming days – casting financial viability to the wind and presenting shows merely for the pure thrill they bring.

New writing – like Jack Holden's Cruise, nestled side-by-side with fan favourites like Six or Everybody's Talking About Jamie, as well as cockle-warming and innovative musicals such as Amélie. In Coventry you can see April in Paris, while Zinnie Harris' Meet Me At Dawn will reopen the Hope Mill in Manchester. Curve Leicester will kick off with a starry gala from Thursday. Off-West End, you can sample some incredible new musicals thanks to "MT Fest UK", while Wendi Peters brings new piece You Are Here to life at Southwark Playhouse.

Spiegel rounded off his preliminaries with a more triumphant note: "I'm also the first producer to reopen The Mousetrap. Producers are inclined to hyperbole but there is something historic about this evening. We are, as a nation, world leaders in theatre, we punch far above our weight. It may feel bizarre that The Mousetrap is at the vanguard of reopening, but it also doesn't feel bizarre. From tonight we begin to punch again."

See what's coming to stages near you in our dedicated guide

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Closed: 13 June 2021