The Detective Did It. Now Go Home.

London, The Arts

The Mousetrap, the world’s longest-running play, just celebrated its 60th anniversary. Agatha Christie’s knackered old whodunnit has been dulling the senses of audiences for longer than I’ve been alive, and just hit its 25,000th soporific performance.

The eyelid-dropping warhorse was past its sell-by date long before it even opened, a time when Francis Durbridge thrillers still played on the ends of piers, and harks back to a time when the lady of the house came in through the French windows with a bunch of daffodils and spent the next half hour arranging them while complaining about the servants.

Welcome to a world where the sun never sets on the British Empire and the vicar and the family doctor stop by for a snifter, where all the men wear jumpers and people listen to the radio, a sort of Daily Express fantasy-land for people who secretly don’t like Darkies or Poofs. Perhaps that’s over-egging it – The Mousetrap is simply a not-terribly-good play that for some peculiar reason came to represent ‘Englishness’ to the world, like policemen’s helmets and guardsmen.

I often have to wade through hordes of bemused-looking Chinese people coming out of the theatre having had no idea what they just saw or why, other than because it was part of the itinerary along with Harrods, Big Ben and being ripped off in Camden Market.

Christie’s play has been silting up the lovely old St Martin’s Theatre for so long that I’ve never seen inside the place. And this year it’s being seen in 60 international touring productions as well as all over the British Isles. So surely, once everyone has had a chance to slumber through it, they could let the poor old thing pass away in the night and replace it with something audiences actually want to see?

Even another, better, Christie like ‘Witness For The Prosecution’ would be preferable. Or maybe Cirque Du Soleil could reinterpret it and have the cast come in on bungee ropes. Anything – anything – rather than leaving it there to stink up a fine old building for any longer.

18 comments on “The Detective Did It. Now Go Home.”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    One set for 60 years. What a saving in overhead. What is the age of the longest running cast member? Do they go home? What is the state of their mental health?

  2. J F Norris says:

    Wow. And Kristen Stewart had nothing to do with this play.

  3. DavidF says:

    It stopped being a play decades ago, and has become mindless Brit/London touch-point pageantry for the visitor economy – along with pearly kings & queens, Angus Steak Houses, and burnt-chestnut vendors.

    I pity the actors having to go through the motions every night, the director who is probably under strict instructions not to do ANYTHING creative with it, the ushers who have put up with it longer than anyone and no doubt feel their brains slowly turning to mush. I do wonder if in the trade it’s considered as some sort of punishment: 2 years in The Mousetrap versus 2 years in Parkhurst? Tough choice.

  4. amber says:

    I’ve heard that actors regard it as “their national service”

  5. Adam says:

    I never knew the detective did it……

  6. Helen Martin says:

    I did not see The Mousetrap in London. I sort of saw the theatre – over there – but felt it could be skipped.

  7. BangBang!! says:

    The lad third from right looks like a chunky version of Sir Patrick Stewart.
    Talking of peelers’ helmets, I ask a policeman every year at Donington Festival what the penalty would be for knocking a bobby’s helmet off with a snowball. Various Beano characters deserve to know! About 15 years ago it would have been a simple Breach of the Peace and a 50 quid fine. Nowadays, however, it would be considered assault and a much more serious affair. So think on Dennis!

  8. Jon Masters says:

    The lad third from right IS Sir Patrick Stewart – and that’s Hugh Bonneville, Miranda Hart, Tamsin Greig, Julie Waters and Nicholas Farell, amongst others. I think this was for the anniversary performance. Who knows what crimes they were atoning for.

    Never seen it, now don’t need to.

  9. Brian says:

    Damn! Well, your headline has spoiled it for me. It is coming to Sydney next next month at Walsh Bay. Saves me $240 (for two tickets) but I will have to find something else to see that night when we are up there. I won’t let you know what we choose though in case you want to spoil that as well.

  10. BangBang!! says:

    Nice one Jon! I can see them now that I look properly, The pic is a bit blurred and I wasn’t expecting so many names. I feel a bit daft now!

  11. BangBang! says:

    Having got my magnifying glass out (ironically!) I can see that the photo isn’t blurred, it’s my dreadful eyesight. Apologies Admin!

  12. Alan Morgan says:

    Golly Jon, I think you’re right. That puts the mockers on the whole article. Anything with Tamsin Greig in it is good. That’s a law, or a rule, or a tradition, or a something. You could keep the Twilight films word-for-word but put her in as the lead (and especially in context, as Fran from Black Books) and it would be suddenly super-wonderful. Maybe.

  13. Nigel says:

    I saw this about fifteen years ago, having had absolutely no desire to see it, but two of my friends were in it (and another was in it last year) so felt obliged to. I do agree with largely with the comments here, that it’s become part of the tourist trail, attended (at least on the night I was there) by people whose comprehension of English or appreciation of theatre is pretty minimal. Yes, it is outdated, and survives largely because it has been on for so long, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you make out. It’s not a great play, and certainly not a good play for the 21st century, but it’s adequate for a couple of hours. For the actors, it’s that much envied luxury of guaranteed work in the West End for a year, and it stops a theatre from being dark (although, as you rightly say, it could be used for other better productions). And while I have always longed to spray-paint those words on the walls of Saint Martin’s Theatre, or speak them to tourists asking for directions, I think it’s a bit naughty of you for revealing the play’s twist. (It reminds me of that Peanuts strip where Linus is halfway through avidly watching Citizen Kane, and Lucy walks by and says the supreme spoiler: “Rosebud was the name of his ****.”)

  14. Fi says:

    It’s on tour over here in Australia at present!

  15. ChrisE says:

    Well…. My wife and I saw it last month and quite enjoyed it. It might be because we saw the quite awful ‘Yes Prime Minister’ 2 days earlier mind you.

    My wife and I also wondered if your critic’s slagging off of ‘The Mousetrap’ in ‘Memory of Blood’ was you writing creatively or venting your own feelings. We now know.

    I love your books, and recommend them to just about everyone. This is also one of my favourite sites. I do however feel that giving away the ending to anyone who hasn’t seen the play and who might have wanted to is a tad mean. :(

  16. admin says:

    Chris, I could have lived with a sixty year-old show that had never been off, but when it’s also touring every part of the world and the country, it’s really time this tatty old thing should go. For some real theatre, may I recommend the Donmar, the Menier, the National and fringe shows, which will give you enthralling nights.

  17. ChrisE says:

    Thanks for replying admin, and I understand what you mean. I myself think the end of The Usual Suspects is very obvious from 20 minutes in, and don’t think it’s that great, but I wouldn’t dream of revealing the end.

    I still think you’re a wonderful writer, and have read just about everything you’ve written. You also seem a very nice person, which is why I was a bit shocked, as whatever you think, others may still have gotten some pleasure from it.

    For myself, I liked it for what it was (I already knew who did it), and my wife who never guesses… guessed also! :)

    One thing that did add to our experience was the wonderful theatre itself, which is one of the loveliest we have ever seen.

    The next time we visit London from the Isle of Wight, which we do often as we both love the city, we will definitely investigate the places you recommend. Thank you for that.

  18. Abbey says:

    [just saw your post today, somebody forwarded a link to email group 4MA]

    Cirque de Soleil with bungee ropes, interpreting Agatha Christie… (siggggh) – thanks for the laugh, I really needed one today! (and, yes, I’d definitely pay to see THAT!) ooooh. Imagine what they might do with AND THEN THERE WERE NONE…

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