Watching The Mousetrap in the West End - Hindustan Times
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Watching The Mousetrap in the West End

ByMihir Chitre
Jun 07, 2024 08:49 PM IST

Catching a show of Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit definitely tops the list of great things to do in London

London is loaded with history, culture, food and drink, music, cricket and literature, so there’s never a dearth of things to do. But right at the top of my list was catching a play in the West End, the city’s famed theatre district that has been around for over 350 years. That’s older than the United States of America. The district currently houses 39 theatres showing a range of plays including classics and musicals. A theatre lover could spend a month here and still not manage to watch everything. Despite the abundance, it’s not easy to get tickets as this city loves theatre. Theatre goers are willing to pay hefty amounts to experience the arts and they do so with passion and discipline.

The cast of The Mousetrap at the end of the show. (Mihir Chitre)
The cast of The Mousetrap at the end of the show. (Mihir Chitre)

On realising that Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap was in its 50th year at the city’s 108-year-old St Martin’s Theatre (it opened in November 1952 at The Ambassadors Theatre before moving to the current venue in 1974) – making it the longest running play in the world – I knew I couldn’t miss the chance to watch it on this, my first trip to London. I managed to get a £79 ticket – that’s a little over 8,000 by the current conversion rate. It’s steep for a play that’s been running for half a century but, well, that’s how it goes in London!

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The Mousetrap is the longest running play in the world. It opened in November 1952 at The Ambassadors Theatre before moving to the 108-year-old St Martin’s Theatre in 1974, where it’s been running since. (Mihir Chitre)
The Mousetrap is the longest running play in the world. It opened in November 1952 at The Ambassadors Theatre before moving to the 108-year-old St Martin’s Theatre in 1974, where it’s been running since. (Mihir Chitre)

I reached St Martin’s theatre well in advance and joined the queue. Unlike back home in Mumbai, Londoners worship queues and inserting yourself slyly in one is considered a cultural felony. I found it all incredibly polite. Once I got to my seat, I chanced upon another charming custom. Almost everyone around me was sitting with a pint of beer or a glass of gin. Watching a play while sipping on an alcoholic beverage? That’s unheard of in India. At the food and beverage counter, still in disbelief, I asked the attendant, “Is it okay to drink a beer while the play is on?” “Yes, sir!” he replied with a smile.

As soon as the curtains went up, there was pin-drop silence. No mobile screen lights flashing, no one whispering into another’s ear, no baby suddenly crying and, for God’s sake, not a single phone ringing. I remembered the time a phone rang while Naseeruddin Shah was performing his monologue, Einstein, at the NCPA in Mumbai. He made a funny remark about it in between the act, which resulted in huge applause. Such chances at brilliance aren’t given to actors in London. They have to stick to the script. All of them did a fine job! Especially Rachel Summers, who played the protagonist, Mollie Ralston.

The setting of the two-act play is, in Agatha Christie’s words, “A guest house, Monkswell Manor, wintertime, in the present day”. On the radio, we hear a murder has taken place in London and that the murderer is on the run. Monkswell Manor is a once-regal estate that has been converted into a guesthouse by its current owners, the married couple, Giles and Mollie Ralston. There’s a storm raging outside and one by one, guests keep checking in. Each has their own eccentricities. At one point, a detective comes in and announces that the murderer might well be among them. And so everyone is suspicious of each other. A riveting plot with a fantastic twist-in-the-tale, The Mousetrap is the original classic whodunit.

St Martins, where all the action is. (Mihir Chitre)
St Martins, where all the action is. (Mihir Chitre)

As per tradition, the identity of the murderer is kept a secret. After the play, the cast reminded us of that tradition. In a world of spoilers, this was another refreshing experience.

After she finished writing the play, Agatha Christie transferred the rights to her young grandson as a birthday gift. At that point, of course, no one knew it would become the longest-running play in the world. The grandson, Mathew Prichard, who produced Poirot (1989), Death on the Nile (2022) and Marple (2004) probably hasn’t needed another gift in his life since. Not as lucky when it comes to an inheritance, I put on my two jackets and walked out into the London cold, picking up a kebab on the way to the tube station as I headed back to my bed & breakfast, my head still trapped in Monkswell Manor. All in all, an unforgettable experience.

Mihir Chitre is the author of two books of poetry, ‘School of Age’ and ‘Hyphenated’. He is the brain behind the advertising campaigns ‘#LaughAtDeath’ and ‘#HarBhashaEqual’ and has made the short film ‘Hello Brick Road’.

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