From the desk of Roland Rocchiccioli
The announcement of a new Australian production of Agatha Christie’s play, The Mousetrap, stirred myriad memories of my time in repertory theatre, and various productions of Agatha Christie’s popular plays.
SADLY, repertory theatre, or ‘rep’ as it was affectionately known, is a forgotten theatrical relic – more’s the pity. Like UK cities, all Australian capitals had a flourishing rep theatre with a permanent company of professional actors under contract. The repertoire changed on a two, three, or four weekly timetable. It was possible to work-on up to 26 plays in a year.
Mostly during World War Two, it was weekly rep – a new play every week! Some reps did twice weekly, twice nightly. That meant a gruelling two plays a week – each performed twice daily, except for Sunday. Learning the lines was an impossibility so actors resorted to bits of the script concealed all over the set.
Every year the program included a production of an Agatha Christie, and great fun they were they were, both for the actors and the audiences who loved them. At the curtain speech the leading actor asked them not to tell anyone “whodunit”!
Many a production of Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage has topped-up the coffers and helped keep open the doors of a struggling repertory company.
Australian impresario, John Frost, for Crossroads Live Australia, has announced a Platinum Jubilee production of The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie’s most famous play, opening at Sydney’s Theatre Royal in October, then touring to the Comedy Theatre, Melbourne.
With a cast to be announced, it will be directed by Robyn Nevin – former artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company.
Historically, The Mousetrap is the West End’s longest running show. It premiered at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, 6 October 1952. Following a brief tour it opened at the Ambassador’s Theatre in London’s West End, running until 23 March 1974, transferring over-night to the larger, next-door theatre, St Martin’s, where it continues to play. The production has been seen by ten million people and played for 27,500 performances. Lord Richard Attenborough was in the original cast.
It is 100 years since Dame Agatha Christie first published the droll Hercule Poirot whodunit, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. According to a recent study, Agatha Christie is history’s best-selling novelist, having sold more than one billion copies in the English language, and another billion internationally.
Incredibly, she is outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Her work has been translated into more than 100 languages, making her the world’s most-translated writer.
Agatha Christie wrote 66 crime novels, six other novels, 24 plays, and more than 150 short stories. She is the most successful female playwright of all time, and the only female playwright to have had three plays running concurrently on the West End.
In 2019, there were more than 700 productions of her plays produced across the globe.
Agatha Christie wrote Three Blind Mice in 1947, originally as a short radio play which was broadcast on the BBC as a present for Queen Mary’s 80th birthday. Eventually, she adapted the work into a short story before again rewriting it for the stage as The Mousetrap. Ironically, she did not expect the play to run more than a few months and stipulated that no film be made until at least six months after the West End production closed.
Seventy years on, and now an established London tourist attraction, The Mousetrap continues its historic run. A film adaptation looks most unlikely for the immediate future.
Roland can be heard with Brett Macdonald Mondays at 10.45am on 3BA and contacted via [email protected].