The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie has reached its 60th anniversary and is celebrating by going off on tour for 60 weeks around Britain. In fact its 25,000th performance took place on the 18th November 2012 and it beats every other type of show for longevity and has become an institution of London’s theatre land.
It seems amazing that it has lasted so long and sometimes it is described as being theatre as a sedative by turning murder into a parlour game. Whatever its flaws it seems to attract an audience year in year out and perhaps the concept that world order is actually restored and all is well, leaves theatre goers placated and soothed rather than stirred up and troubled. To their credit the ending, which is a twist, has been a well-kept secret and the audience are requested not to give anything away when they have seen the play. This has become a ritual after every performance.
Perhaps The Mousetrap’s lack of pretence is what appeals most to people and certainly it is ripe for pastiche which Tom Stoppard achieved brilliantly in the Real Inspector Hound. Stoppard managed to capture the essence of the play and its period with comic aplomb: guests trapped in a house, stock characters used, radios that mysteriously have exactly the news you are looking for just as you turn it on and so on; it must rank as one of the funniest pieces of theatre I have seen.
However, as crime fiction writers we try so hard to make plots and characterisation watertight but in this play Christie seems to glance over information which leaves the audience pondering such important questions as: ‘why are the guests there in the first place and whatever happened to the body? Characters emit clichés such as, ‘Ooh all this murder is so horrid.’ Yet at the same time Christie gives us all the hallmarks of the crime genre: closed community, locked doors, a storm and a static setting. There are actually instances of real suspense at the moment of revelation and even after all these years the play still exercises a grip. Let’s face it, that’s what every good crime writer wants to achieve.
I suspect what is really interesting to those who go to see The Mousetrap now, are the social details of the early 1950s; the play opened in 1952. But for me, my interest is how the twist plays around with the concept of the whodunit, like unravelling a cryptic crossword. Talking of which I am at a critical point in my new novel The Unwanted. In this, a highly secret organisation called Ultimo Iurisdictio, Final Justice, remove habitual criminals from society, mainly by feeding them to pigs. Sean Fagan of the Serious Organised Crime Agency goes undercover to infiltrate their ranks but as membership of Ultimo Iurisdictio reaches into police and Government, who does he trust? Who is friend and who is foe?
So, congratulations to Agatha Christie and if I manage to sell a fraction of the books she has sold over the years I would be a very happy man.
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