THE MOUSETRAP RETURNS TO NOTTINGHAM

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Seventy years after the world’s longest-running play had its premiere, it is returning to the venue where it first saw the light of day – the Theatre Royal, Nottingham.

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap began life as a 30-minute radio drama called Three Blind Mice which was written as a birthday present for Queen Mary, the mother of King George VI.

Five years later the radio broadcast formed the basis of The Mousetrap which had its first performance at the Theatre Royal on 6 October 1952. Richard Attenborough who was a huge star at the time played Detective Sergeant Trotter while his wife Sheila Sim was Mollie Ralston, the proprietor of Monkswell Manor where the play is set.

The following month, after a short tour, The Mousetrap opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End. Mrs Christie thought it might have a run of eight months; more than 28,000 performances later it is still playing in the capital.

“For (Agatha Christie) to have considered the Theatre Royal a ‘lucky theatre’ in which to premiere her plays is such an accolade.”

Now the play is to go on a massive 70th anniversary tour. It will take in more than 70 venues and continue until 2024. It will start at the theatre which hosted not only the premiere of The Mousetrap but also the first performance two years later of another Christie play, Spider’s Web.

Venue director Peter Ireson says the Theatre Royal is “very proud” of its historic association with Agatha Christie.

“For her to have considered the Theatre Royal a ‘lucky theatre’ in which to premiere her plays is such an accolade. It certainly proved to be true for The Mousetrap, didn’t it?

“I’m sure there’ll be some tingles up the spine on the opening night of this anniversary tour in September, knowing that the great woman herself sat in this very auditorium in Nottingham, seeing the play for the first time 70 years ago.”

Producer of The Mousetrap Adam Spiegel

One man who will definitely be excited to see the show in Nottingham is the current producer Adam Spiegel. The 54-year-old was responsible for the first tour of The Mousetrap ten years ago. He worked then with the producer of the London show, Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen. When he decided to retire, he asked Adam to take over the St Martin’s Theatre production and he has been in charge of it since 2018.

So when he produced the diamond anniversary tour which visited Derby Theatre, did he expect he would be doing the 70th anniversary production as well?

“I think I probably did. It had never toured until 2012 so there was an astonishing amount of pent-up demand for it. Indeed, it sold out in many cities in a matter of hours.

“I always knew there would be subsequent tours because The Mousetrap is possibly the only piece of theatre that everybody intends to see at some point or other. So by touring it we give people that opportunity.”

Adam is often asked why The Mousetrap has been so successful for so long. He is lavish with praise for both the show and its author.

“The most obvious answer is that it’s really good. There’ve been dozens if not hundreds of other thrillers that have been put on stage in the intervening 70 years but I think The Mousetrap has demonstrated through its longevity that it really is a terrific play.

“We reasonably easily forget in this country that Agatha Christie is the most successful writer of all time with the possible exception of William Shakespeare. In any other country on the planet there would be statues of Agatha Christie in every single town. But we find a way in this country of somehow failing to celebrate our own successes.

David Attenborough and Sheila Sim with The Mousetrap’s original producer Sir Peter Saunders and Dame Agatha Christie

“Agatha sold between three and five times as many books as J K Rowling. She’s the original publishing sensation. For the world’s most successful novelist who’s also a woman, to be English and not to be celebrated in the way that I think she should be is oddly typically British. The Mousetrap amongst all her other things is evidence of her enduring popularity.”

Adam says he has no intention of taking off The Mousetrap in London so its accolade of being the world’s longest-running play will probably never be broken.

“There has historically been a bit of a misconception that the only people who go to The Mousetrap are tourists. It’s just not true at all.

“Our audience divides itself reasonably clearly into three almost equal parts: one third is Londoners; one third is domestic tourism, so people coming into London from elsewhere in the country; and a third is international tourism.

“Those numbers are almost identical year on year in terms of the proportion of the audience. But I do think that during the summer, if you’re a visitor to London, The Mousetrap, like Madame Tussauds and Buckingham Palace, is one of the things you should do.”

Gwyneth Strong as Mrs Boyle

The Mousetrap features a group of strangers finding themselves snowed in at the remote countryside guesthouse Monkswell Manor at a time when there has been a murder in London. The guests discover that there is a killer in their midst. One by one the guests reveal that each has a sordid past.

Two of the actors who appeared in this year’s Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season at the Theatre Royal have appeared in the London production and totally enjoyed themselves.

John Lyons, best known for playing Sergeant George Toolan alongside David Jason in the television series A Touch of Frost, has been in The Mousetrap three times. He played the mysterious Major Metcalf on three occasions, first of all in 1999, again in 2004 and for the final time in 2009.

“It’s not the world’s best play but if you’ve got a group of actors who give 100%, it works. As it was in the West End, it was only 40 minutes form my home, so that made it a very nice job.”

Classic Thriller Season regular Andrew Ryan was given a 12-month contract to play Giles Ralston in 1997. He says it was the best job in town.

“When the producer rang me to tell me I’d got the job I was so delighted. I asked him to tell me again because I couldn’t believe it! It was a lovely company and I’m still in touch with a lot of the people from that show.”

Adam Spiegel points out that the show now offers only six-month contracts because “we’ve found it’s easier to keep the cast fresh. But we still have people who’ve been in it before coming back into it.”

The cast for the tour features John Altman, an EastEnders’ original who played Nick Cotton in the television series, Todd Carty who was in The Bill as well as EastEnders and Gwyneth Strong who played Cassandra in the BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses.

“Although I’ve done lots of plays and lots of musicals you never tire of that sense of anticipation that a full theatre is almost uniquely able to deliver.”

Adam says tickets are going really well: “For me there’s nothing that’s more exciting than the buzz of anticipation just before the curtain goes up when a theatre is full. That’s like a drug.

“Although I’ve done lots of plays and lots of musicals you never tire of that sense of anticipation that a full theatre is almost uniquely able to deliver.”

Does he think he’ll be doing another tour in ten years’ time?

“I think maybe in five years but certainly in ten. We’ll keep putting on the play as long as people want to come and see it.”

The Mousetrap tours to the Theatre Royal, Nottingham from 27 September until 1 October, Derby Theatre from 17 until 22 July 2023 and Buxton Opera House from 18 until 23 September 2023.

* This article originally appeared in Country Images magazine

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