Five people and their hosts are snowed in at a guest house and read about a murder that has just taken place in London. A detective arrives, on skis, announcing that the killer may be on his way to the hotel. When one of their party is killed, they realise he is already among them.
Who can it be? One by one the suspicious characters reveal their sordid pasts until at the last, nerve-shredding moment the identity and the motive are finally revealed.
It was about ten years ago that I went to see Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap at St Martin’s Theatre in the West End, and I can’t for the life of me remember who dunnit, and I’m determined to keep it that way until I take my seat at Beck Theatre, Hayes, when the Diamond Anniversary Tour comes to town.
“Good! I’m glad you can’t remember,“ laughs Joanna Croll, who plays Mollie Ralston, the young woman who owns Monkswell Manor, the guest house where all the action takes place, with her husband Giles, played by Henry Luxemberg. “Lots of people say that. I saw it with my mum and sister when I was ten, and my mum couldn’t remember either!“
The Mousetrap is the longest running play in history, having been performed continuously since it first opened in the West End in 1952. For the first time, it is now touring the UK to celebrate its 60-plus years, and more than 25,000 shows.
“We’ve been having a really lovely time of it on the road,“ continues Joanna, 37, “we’ve been playing full houses. The audiences have seemed really engaged with the story, which is why I think it’s lasted as long as it has. It’s nice to hear, when you’re up on stage, the whispering, you hear people piecing things together – sometimes the wrong things!“
Joanna and Henry met at drama school, Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, about 15 years ago, so were pleased to be reunited on stage, playing husband and wife.
“Henry will tell you that my character Mollie is very fussy, but she’s not,“ laughs Joanna. “She and Giles are newly-weds and she’s inherited the guest house from her aunt. She’s slightly more nervous than Giles about all the guests arriving for the first time. Giles is slightly more useless! Mollie is young and fairly innocent, but there’s more to her than meets the eye.“
“Molly is quite fussy,“ Henry protests, “but it’s nice to play opposite her fussiness. A word I love using for Giles is ‘louche’ – it’s a great word, isn’t it? He’s not quite as excited as Mollie about opening a guest house.
“Their relationship certainly gets tried – everyone at some point suspects someone else.“
Was there any pressure to produce a carbon copy of the West End version?
“Although it’s been going for so long, each show brings something new,“ says Henry, 34, “and this is our interpretation of it, it’s fresh. The director, Ian Watt Smith, wasn’t looking to create an exact duplicate of previous productions.
“There’s a lot of Henry in Giles and that goes for all the other actors and their characters as well.“
“There’s a nice sense of joining a family,“ Joanna says. “I’m aware of all the other Mollies that have come before me, but I never felt like I had to play the role in a certain way. It’s a nice tradition to be joining but without any sense of us having to follow a pattern.
“There was a certain sense of responsibility, joining something that’s so big,“ continues Joanna, who hails from Stockport. “There are certain scenes which are traditional, like the part with Mollie and the inspector. There’s a very famous photo of Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim and we create almost a tableau of that on stage.
“And Mollie wears a dress, which I think has probably been unchanged since the beginning – obviously we all get a new one! – but the designs are largely unchanged. There’s a lovely sense of theatre history.
“I think you do have to honour the play and its traditions, and I think we’re all aware of that and hopefully respectful of that.“
“It’s such a British institution, isn’t it, all things Agatha Christie,“ says Henry, who is originally from York and now lives in Hackney. “It’s very traditional to sit down and watch anything of hers, whether it’s a Poirot or a Miss Marple, we’re all familiar with the drawing room scenes and with the types of characters.
“The story’s well constructed, there’s murder, there’s excitement – all the ingredients of a great play are there.“
A great play indeed – I just hope that, unlike me, you come away remembering who dunnit.
The Mousetrap Diamond Anniversary Tour is at Beck Theatre, Grange Road, Hayes from May 26 to 31. Details: 020 8561 8371, becktheatre.org.uk
The Mousetrap began life as a short radio play, broadcast on May 30, 1947, called Three Blind Mice.
The world premiere was at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham on October 6, 1952.
It began its London run on November 25, 1952 at the Ambassadors Theatre. It transferred to St Martin’s Theatre in March 1974 – maintaining its ‘initial run’ status.
403 actors and actresses have appeared in the show.
124 miles of shirts have been ironed
David Raven is in the Guinness Book of World Records as Most Durable Actor, for his 4,575 performances as Major Metcalf
The late Nancy Seabrooke is in the record books for her 15 years as an understudy
One ‘original cast member’ has been in it since opening night - the late Deryck Guyler’s recorded voice can still be heard reading the news bulletin.