Still Going Strong!
Still Going Strong! [Illustration by Anup Singh]
December 27: Something momentous happened at London’s West End theatre a few days ago on December 16. A play by famous mystery writer Agatha Christie, The Mousetrap, was staged to a standing ovation yet again.

Nothing unusual in that except for one thing. It was the 20,000th stage performance of The Mousetrap. And this makes the play the longest running in the world, having premiered in the year 1952. And, Agatha Christie’s grandson, Matthew Prichard, was present on the occasion.

The Mousetrap has broken every record in theatre circles, reports The Hindustan Times newspaper. Around 318 actors have played the eight characters in the play over the years. Over 10 million people have seen it till date. It has been watched in 44 countries and translated in 24 languages. It’s so much a part of British life today, that, like the Buckingham Palace, it ranks as a must-see for any tourist visiting London.

What makes The Mousetrap tick? No one is quite sure. It’s a taut whodunit or murder mystery featuring a lonely house, a rainy night, a few visitors, their inexplicable murders and, of course, a detective. But more than the plot, it’s the period setting that attracts people to the play.

The play evokes memories of a past that the British look back on with great fondness. A past when the sun had still not set on the mighty British empire with its many colonies across the world. The old generation goes to see the play for the sake of nostalgia, while the young generation sees it to catch a glimpse of the old England.

When staged in 1952, Britain and Europe were still feeling the effects of World War II. Britain’s prime minister, Winston Churchill, was a wartime leader, just as the then Soviet Union was headed by another wartime leader, Joseph Stalin.

Several decades have rolled past since then. Britain is no longer one of the most powerful countries of the world, and the Soviet Union has broken up. But The Mousetrap is still going strong.

“It’s a London institution – like the ravens in the Tower of London,” said noted director Richard Attenborough who had starred in the original production, in a Reuters report that appeared in The Asian Age.

Attenborough (director of the internationally-acclaimed film, ‘Gandhi’) participated in the celebrations to mark the 20,000th performance with his wife Sheila Sim and the 82-year-old actress, Jessica Spencer. They are the only three surviving members of the original “Mousetrap troupers.”

The play has made Christie’s grandson, Matthew Prichard, a very rich man. He had received the stage rights to the play as a gift on his ninth birthday from the author. And what a gift it’s turned out to be!