To mark its 60th anniversary, the world’s longest-running stage play The Mousetrap is on tour. With a vibrant cast and an incredibly sturdy and realistic set, this show certainly has the quality of a well-run play, but shows no signs of being outdated. It is no mystery that Agatha Christie is a national treasure and this show is just one of the many success stories that she has been producing since publishing her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920.
Besides those who attend pantomime productions, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or practically every show from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it would be difficult to find another crowd with as much voluntary audience participation as The Mousetrap. This play does not take itself seriously, and the audience recognise that and embrace it. The atmosphere of watching this play among a bunch of Christie fanatics is like sitting down with your friends to a great film; there was a frequent exchange of ‘ooh’s, ‘ah’s and giddy glances between audience members. The fact this play was written by Christie is reason enough for people of all ages to get excited about the experience.
The play itself has remained a mystery, despite its extraordinarily long run. Not much is known to the public about the story, who dies and, thankfully, whodunit. It’s a long-standing tradition that reviewers, and the audiences, should never reveal the culprit – something that has been honoured now for six decades. That is an incredible achievement for any production.
With her iconic detectives, elaborate character back stories and clever conclusions, Christie has enchanted many a reader with her mystery novels, plays and short stories. It is not often nowadays that you can scroll down the TV guide and not come across a Miss Marple or Poirot case, and they are always exquisite. Christie’s engagement with her work was such that she saw her beloved detectives as actual people, which, with the glorious method acting of David Suchet, her audience can also believe. Even without modern media as a visual aid, Christie’s characters are so consistent in their mannerisms, speech patterns and aesthetics that they already feel real to many of her readers.
And it’s not just Marple and Poirot who have come to life on screen. The BBC’s Partners in Crime series featuring David Walliams and Jessica Raine as the amateur sleuths Tommy and Tuppence was a great success. With the Tommy and Tuppence novels being typically much longer than her others, these cases are much more elaborate and show just how capable Christie was of producing incredible plot twists and tales of spies and governmental crimes. The BBC series did great justice to this by producing N or M? and The Secret Adversary as a miniseries jam packed with murders, disguises, gadgets and couple’s quarrels, as well as the undeniably fabulous costume designs.
The BBC also recently picked up Christie’s sensational locked-room mystery And Then There Were None. This novel is so elaborate, so enticing and so seemingly impossible that it has elevated Christie to the best-selling author of all time, and is now available in over 50 languages so many more people can enjoy it. However, with a dark, controversial ending it has often been altered for film and stage productions, but the BBC miniseries was the first to include the original conclusion and it played out beautifully. Yet another great success.
Christie’s simple writing style, diverse arsenal of characters and rather frightening talent for sensational murders has produced a constant flow of adaptations and new audiences. She has reigned as the Queen of Crime for nearly a century now and one can only hope she will reign for many more.