When I found out Christina Wehner and Little Bits of Classics were co-hosting an Agatha Christie Blogathon, I was excited, but when I discovered it was interdisciplinary, I was thrilled because there is nothing I would rather talk about than Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap. You might wonder why with so many acclaimed classic Agatha Christie films, I am covering a play on a movie blog?
I have had the tremendous good fortune to star in this play as “Mollie Ralston” in three separate productions.
So without further ado, I present Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.
An Illustrious Beginning
When the BBC contacted the royal family for a program suggestion to celebrate Queen Mary’s 80th birthday, the Queen requested an Agatha Christie radio play. “Three Blind Mice,” a half-hour radio play was written in honor of the Queen, would later be expanded to the full-length stage play The Mousetrap, and an enduring classic was born.The Mousetrap became the world’s longest-running play in the history of British Theatre, it opened on October 6, 1952, at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, and the original production is still playing at the St. Martin’s Theatre in London.
Let me make this clear. It is not like Les Miserables, or Phantom of the Opera where several separate concurrent professional productions are running, this play’s original production has not closed, it is still in its first run, 64 years later!While this is a phenomenal feat, there is a downside to this nifty little factoid; the production moved to the West End under the agreement that the producers will not release adaptation rights to movie executives, until six months after the initial production closed.
While licensing is available for stage productions through Samuel French, the outcome of the play is a closely guarded secret, so this post will be spoiler-free.
The show begins with the melody of “Three Blind Mice” followed by what sounds like the discovery of murder.
As the curtain rises we see a large manor home and hear a radio broadcast:
RADIO BROADCAST. A murder has occurred at twenty-four Culver Street in Paddington. The victim was a Mrs. Maureen Lyon. The police are now anxious to interview a man seen in the vicinity, wearing a dark overcoat, light scarf, and soft felt hat.
A woman enters dressed like the suspect and hides a mysterious parcel in the room, and exits. Shortly after that, a man enters also dressed as the suspect hides a parcel in the home.
We soon learn these people are newlyweds Mollie and Giles Ralston. We also learn that these people clearly have something to hide from one another. They are both evasive with one another about their actions earlier that day. Shortly after World War II, the couple inherited a large estate. The couple converts the home to an inn to generate an income, but they have no experience in the hospitality industry:
GILES. We’re rather mugs at this game.
MOLLIE. They bring luggage. If they don’t pay, we hang onto their luggage. It’s quite simple.
Having not bothered to check references of their guests, Giles is uneasy is about opening their home to strangers, but Mollie is optimistic. And when the guests begin to arrive, Giles feels even less secure in their new venture.
Their first guest arrives wearing a dark overcoat, light scarf, and soft felt hat. Christopher Wren is an odd architect, with messy hair and strange taste in neckties. After a small hitch in their newly budding relationship, Christopher and Mollie hit it off, Giles in nonplussed.
CHRISTOPHER. I think I’m going to like it here. I find your wife most sympathetic.
CHRISTOPHER. And really quite beautiful.
MOLLIE. Oh, don’t be absurd.
CHRISTOPHER. There, isn’t that like an English woman? Compliments always embarrass them. European women take compliments as a matter of course, but English women have all the feminine spirit crushed out of them by their husbands. There’s something very boorish about English husbands.
And once again, someone arrives wearing a dark overcoat, light scarf, and soft felt hat.
This time, it is Mrs. Boyle, a stern woman ready to disapprove of everything she sees.
MOLLIE. No indoor staff, just us.
MRS. BOYLE. In-deed? I understood this was a guesthouse in full running order.
MOLLIE. We’ve only just started.
MRS. BOYLE. I would have said that a proper staff was essential before opening this kind of establishment. I consider your advertisement was most misleading.
Meanwhile, Christopher Wren now feeling comfortable in his new home, is behaving even stranger:
CHRISTOPHER. I do adore nursery rhymes. Don’t you? Always so macabre, that’s why children like them.
We then meet our next guest, Major Metcalf, an incredibly amiable and friendly chap (think Nigel Bruce as “Dr. Watson”), who happens to be wearing a dark overcoat, light scarf, and soft felt hat.
MAJOR METCALF. How d’you do? Absolute blizzard outside. Thought at one time we shouldn’t make it. If it goes on like this, I should say you’ll have five or six feet of snow by morning. I haven’t seen anything like it since I was on leave in 1940.
He is followed by Miss Casewell, a rather manly woman with a firm handshake (a Katherine Hepburn type), a twisted sense of humor, and incidentally wearing a dark overcoat, light scarf, and soft felt hat.
MISS CASEWELL. Looks like we’re going to be snowed up here.Weather forecast says heavy falls expected. Motorists warned, etcetera. Hope you got plenty of provisions in.
GILES. Oh, yes my wife’s an excellent manager. Anyway, we can always eat our hens.
MISS CASEWELL. Before we start eating each other, eh?
With the guests all in place, the Ralstons begin to prepare for dinner noting that other than Major Metcalf all their guests seem rather odd or unpleasant.
Suddenly the doorbell rings, again and Mr. Paravicini arrives, a strange Italian man, whose car is broken down on the side of the road. Paravicini is clearly aware of the mysteriousness of his arrival and plays it up to the hilt.
PARAVICINI. Yes, the unexpected guest. The guest that you did not invite. The guest who just arrived, from nowhere, out of the storm. Who am I? You do not know. Where do I come from? You do not know. Me? I am a man of mystery. (Laughs). But now I tell you this. there will be no more arrivals. And no departures, either. By tomorrow-perhaps even already- we are cut off from civilization. No butcher, no baker, no milkman, no postman, no daily papers. No one and nothing but ourselves. That is admirable, admirable, it could not suit me better.
Incidentally, he too is wearing a dark overcoat, light scarf, and soft felt hat.
The next morning, tensions mount as this incompatible group of strangers live under one roof. As the snow piles up, it is clear that everyone is trapped in the home.
The guests are alarmed when they find out Scotland Yard has telephoned to let the Ralstons know they are sending Detective Sergeant Trotter to the house. Shortly after that, the telephone dies. As the roads are blocked with snow, the young detective arrives on skis.MRS. BOYLE. I suppose that’s what we pay our police for, nowadays. To go about enjoying themselves at winter sports.
The Detective reveals that the murderer of Maureen Lyon (the woman mentioned in the radio broadcast) left a clue at the previous crime scene, the address of the Ralston’s home. The police suspect the murderer and Maureen Lyon are connected through a previous court case where a child in foster care died at Longridge Farm several years back. Acting on their suspicions the police investigate everyone staying at Monkswell Manor.
DETECTIVE SERGEANT TROTTER. With instructions to get full particulars of everyone in the house, to report back on the phone, take whatever measure he sees fit to ensure the safety of the household.
GILES. Safety? What danger does he think we’re in? Good Lord, he’s not suggesting someone may be killed here.
TROTTER. I don’t want to frighten any of the ladies, but frankly, yes, that is the idea.
GILES. But why? The whole thing is crazy!
TROTTER. It’s because it’s crazy that it’s dangerous.
MRS. BOYLE. Nonsense.
MISS CASEWELL. I must say it’s a bit far-fetched.
CHRISTOPHER. I think it’s wonderful!
When the detective finds out the phones are out of service, he becomes concerned. And while everyone else is trying to figure out what happened to the phones, Mrs. Boyle is murdered. What follows is a fairly tense potboiler thriller as the detective interrogates the guests one-by-one to find out who committed the murder. As it turns out everyone has a motive,means, and opportunity.
In the grand tradition of The Mousetrap, I will not reveal the ending. This is one of the most widely produced plays in the world, I highly recommend seeing it staged live.
What is in those packages Mollie and Giles are hiding? Is Miss Casewell a woman? Is Mr. Paravicini traveling in disguise? Why is Christopher Wren behaving so strangely? Who cut the phone lines? Who is connected with the Longridge farm case? Who killed Mrs. Boyle? Who will be next?
You can also read the published version of the script available through Barnes and Noble here.
And if anyone needs someone to play Mollie, I’m free!
Ciao for now, dearies!
Saunders, Peter. The Mousetrap Story. London: St. Martins Theatre, 1992. Print.