I am a hard-boiled fan of British murder mysteries. For me, it all started with Hercule Poirot and his “little grey cells”, and since then, my reading repertoire has included Dorothy M. Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle and P.D. James. I read these classics seldom (only as a treat after a productive working period or when suffering from a flue attack), and I rarely venture outside this comfort zone of, well, grisly murder plots.
I had a vague idea that The Mousetrap is somewhat an institution in London’s, I’d like to say theatre world, but am more inclined to choose the words ‘tourist attractions’, and, being a kind of a resident tourist in the city, I felt it as my duty to go and inspect more closely the case of The Mousetrap.
Covent Garden and Soho are my favourite areas in London at the moment, and as on one leisurely stroll I happened to point out the neon sing of Agatha Christie’s play to my eternal sidekick, he, in his eternal wisdom, bought us tickets for the play as a birthday present. Funnily enough, last year it was Christie’s Black Coffee in Dublin we went to see on my special day – yeah, he’s getting off fairly easily with gift ideas, isn’t he?
The Mousetrap is the world’s longest continuously running play: in fact, it became the world’s longest running play already in 1957, after five years of its opening. Agatha Christie predicted that the play would only run for eight months, but after its continuous success, even Noël Coward had to send her a telegram: “Much as it pains me I really must congratulate you…” And ever since, through the decades of hippies and progressive rock, punk, rap and electro, through eras of digitalization, privatization and superficialization, and through eras of hard-boiled American private eyes, crimes solved with action and guns, and through all that Scandi Noir, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap has prevailed.
The Mousetrap is not Beckett, Ibsen, Pinter or, well, Coward, but it is a genuine Agatha Christie mix of comedy, cosiness and crime. The set (one room with doors and corridors leading out of sight) and lighting were in perfect harmony with the theatre’s somewhat dusty and old-fashioned atmosphere. The drawing room was furnished with armchairs and a sofa, a fire was blazing in one corner and a radio rattling in another. Behind the sitting room’s black window, the wind howled and threw a bucketful of snowflakes on the actors’ shoulders every time they popped out.
I also felt that the cast was cherishing and honouring a sense of history and continuity with their performances, even though The Mousetrap is sometimes snubbed by the more serious theatre-goers as a fossil of a bygone era with a structure creaking like Dracula’s coffin.
But for me, this is the attraction of Christie: a glimpse of a bygone world of crime writing, when plot twists were not emphasized with sex or violence, when the detective cracked the case without the need to drown his sorrows into booze and girls, and when a murder was not an in-depth social commentary, but merely an inconvenience in one’s daily existence in between drinks and dinner.