To celebrate its diamond jubilee, 60 productions of The Mousetrap have been licensed worldwide, and Joburg has one of those licences to stage the famed Agatha Christie murder mystery.
IN Monkswell Manor, a freezing English country guest house, it is the midst of a northern winter. Eight people are snowed in – and one of them is a murderer.
The classic thriller keeps the audience intriguedThe classic thriller keeps the audience intriguedThere are Mollie and Giles Ralston, Monkswell’s owners; Christopher Wren, a peculiar, hyperactive young man; Mrs Boyle, a hyper-critical older woman; retired army Major Metcalf; Miss Casewell, a strange, aloof woman with a horrific past; Mr Paravicini, a man of unknown provenance, who turns up claiming his car has overturned in a snowdrift; and Detective Sergeant Trotter, a policeman who arrives during the snow storm to protect the guests from the murderer.
Agatha Christie’s classic thriller, The Mousetrap, is the longest running show in the world – 2012 marks its 60th year, with over 24 000 performances in London’s West End, and still counting.
For its 60th anniversary, 60 professional productions of the play have been licensed all over the world. The Pieter Toerien Theatre show is one of these Diamond 60. Directed by Alan Swerdlow, it stars Clare Marshall, Ashley Dowds, Mark Rayment, Robert Fridjhon, Bronwyn-Leigh Gottwald, Matthew Lotter, Clyde Berning and Sarah Richard.
The Mousetrap is on at Montecasino’s Pieter Toerien Theatre from 18 January until 26 February.
The eight characters stranded at the house each have traits that could match the killer of a woman in London the day before. It is a gripping story, with a twist at the end that audiences are asked not to reveal.
Swerdlow says: “In this diamond jubilee year it’s easy [to] see with hindsight the many strengths of Dame Agatha Christie’s perennial classic. For a start, it is remarkably well-constructed, even for a writer who crafted the most intricate of plots.
“Then there is the psychological truth that underpins the play. Delving into the psychology and formation of a killer was fairly radical for a time when most plays of this type were formulaic and close adherents of the genre,” he adds.
“And, of course, there is the sheer entertainment value for the audience of sorting through the red herrings, deft sleights-of-hand and unexpected twists.”
The murder mystery opened in London’s West End in 1952, and has been running continuously ever since.
It had its world premiere at the Theatre Royal, in Nottingham in the United Kingdom on 6 October 1952, directed by Peter Cotes. It then toured to the New Theatre, Oxford; the Manchester Opera House; the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool; the Theatre Royal, Newcastle; the Grand Theatre, Leeds; and the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham before it began its run in London on 25 November 1952 at the New Ambassadors Theatre.
Before it hit the stage though, the play began as a short radio production on 30 May 1947 called Three Blind Mice. It originated from the real-life case of the death of a boy, Dennis O’Neill, who died while in the foster care of a Shropshire farmer and his wife in 1945.
Christie gave the rights to the play to her grandson, Matthew Prichard, as a birthday present. Only one version of the play can be performed annually outside the West End.
It has become something of an institution in London, a tourist must-see. In 1997, under producer Stephen Waley-Cohen, a theatrical education charity called Mousetrap Theatre Projects was established to help young people experience London’s theatre.
The Mousetrap ran at the New Ambassadors Theatre until 23 March 1974, when it immediately transferred to St Martin’s Theatre next door, where it reopened on 25 March, thus keeping its “initial run” status.
As of 13 October 2011, it had clocked up a record 24 537 performances, with the play still running at St Martin’s Theatre. For many years, the director has been David Turner.
Christie did not expect The Mousetrap to run for as long as it has. In her autobiography, she notes a conversation that she had with Peter Saunders, the original producer: “Fourteen months I am going to give it,” said Saunders. To which Christie replied: “It won’t run that long. Eight months perhaps. Yes, I think eight months.”
The original West End cast included Richard Attenborough as Detective Sergeant Trotter and his wife, Sheila Sim, as Mollie Ralston. Since the retirement of Mysie Monte and David Raven – who each made history by remaining in the cast for more than 11 years in their roles as Mrs Boyle and Major Metcalf – the cast has changed annually.
The Mousetrap is on at the Peter Toerien Theatre at Montecasino, from 18 January to 26 February, from Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm, on Saturdays at 5pm and 8pm, and on Sundays at 3pm. Tickets range in price from R75 to R160 and are available at Computicket.
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