INTERVIEWS: The Mousetrap 70th Anniversary Cast As They Tour The UK, Including A Visit To The Wirral
INTERVIEWS: The Mousetrap 70th Anniversary Cast As They Tour The UK, Including A Visit To The Borough Of Wirral In The Liverpool City Region
The genre-defining murder mystery, The Mousetrap, written by Agatha Christie, the world’s best-selling novelist of all time, is currently on a National Tour of the UK to celebrate its 70th Anniversary.
The Mousetrap premiered at Theatre Royal Nottingham in 1952 and toured the UK before opening in the West End where it continues its record-breaking engagement at the St Martin’s Theatre, 70 years on.
The iconic thriller’s 70th Anniversary tour also opened in Nottingham in September 2022, and continues to travel throughout the UK and Ireland, marking its milestone anniversary by visiting over 70 theatres, including all cities to which it originally played 70 years ago, plus many more.
Here are interviews from Mathew Prichard, the Grandson of Agatha Christie and Chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd., as well as Questions & Answers interviews with Todd Carty who plays Major Metcalf and Catherine Shipton who plays Mrs. Boyle.
For a full tour schedule, further information, theatre listings and to purchase tickets, you can do so via the Floral Pavilion's website or Box Office on 0151 666 0000, as well as through The Mousetrap Tour website.
Mathew Prichard, Grandson of Agatha Christie
I suppose it took some time for it to sink in that I had a famous grandmother known to the world as Agatha Christie. I first remember her during the years when I was at preparatory school and her house at Wallingford was nearby. We used to have enjoyable ‘exeats’ on Sundays and it was, I think, then that the first glimmers of truth came through. Very sensibly, the headmaster of my school insisted on initialling all books that came into the school. I came back from Wallingford clutching the latest Agatha Christie and wondering, quite genuinely, whether the Head could possibly find any reason for withholding the coveted signature. He never did! There was, however, one occasion when my book took a terribly long time to re-appear. Later I realised that the headmaster’s wife had taken the opportunity to read it!
In such small ways, therefore, did I become aware that I had a talented grandmother. Not that it made a great deal of difference to me. She was just a marvellous grandmother and someone nice to have around. I think perhaps there were four things which, more than anything else endeared her to me. The first was her modesty. To the outside world I suppose this appeared as shyness, but to us she was always infinitely more interested in what we were thinking and doing than in herself.
She could manage to write a book almost without one noticing and sometimes she used to read the new one to us in the summer down in Devonshire. She did so partly, I suspect, to test audience reaction, but partly to entertain us on the inevitable wet afternoons when, no doubt, I was rather difficult to amuse! We all tried to guess, and my mother was the only one who was ever right. I think most of my friends who met her during those years were quite astonished that such a mild, gentle grandmother could really be the authoress of all those stories of intrigue, murder and jealousy.
Her next great characteristic was her generosity. It is by now well-known that she gave me The Mousetrap for my ninth birthday. I do not, I’m afraid, remember much about the actual presentation (if there was one) and probably nobody realised until much later what a marvellous present it was, but it is perhaps worth remembering that my grandmother had been through many times in her life when money was not plentiful. It was therefore incredibly generous of her to give away such a play to her grandson, as in 1952 her books were only approaching the enormous success they have now become. It is also a mistake to think of her generosity only in terms of money. She loved giving pleasure to others – good food, a holiday, a present, or a birthday ode. She loved enjoying herself, and also to see others around her enjoying themselves.
The third thing I always enjoyed was her enthusiasm. Despite her modesty or shyness, it was never far below the surface. I think she always had a love/fright relationship with the theatre. Although I am sure she found experience very wearing, she always enjoyed other people’s enthusiasm for her plays and found it infectious. I went to The Mousetrap several times with her in varying company – family parties, girlfriends, and the Eton cricket team when I was captain in 1962. I would say we all enjoyed the play and my grandmother’s company in equal measure. But she was enthusiastic about other people’s plays as well, about archaeology, opera and perhaps above all about food! In short, she was an exciting person to be with because she always tried to look on the good side of things and people; she always found something to enthuse about.
When I had the pleasure of taking my own children, aged twelve and eleven, to The Mousetrap for the first time they enjoyed it tremendously, and crossed off assiduously in their programmes those whom they thought couldn’t have done it (the real culprit was excluded at an early stage!). It was great evening for me, and would have been, I am sure, for my grandmother had she been there. I think it tells us something about the success of the play, too: it contains so much for everybody – humour, drama, suspense and a jigsaw puzzle – suitable for all ages and taste; regrettably not too many plays on the London scene can say the same, and I sometimes feel that actors and actresses, anxious like everybody else for employment, must wish that there were more plays with universal appeal like this.
My grandmother died in January 1976. My family received hundreds of letters from all different walks of life and every part of the world, and I have never seen such a uniform expression of devotion and admiration. No doubt that was because she was a kind, generous and devout person, and preferred always to believe the best of people. She never had an unkind word to say about anybody. We were all left with many happy memories and, of course, all her books and plays, which I am sure will be enjoyed for many generations to come.
It would be remiss of me not to say, on this occasion, something about my grandmother and Peter Saunders. I myself remember Peter as a persistent producer of medium-pace off-cutters in my boyhood cricket days at Greenway in Devon. I am sure it is no exaggeration to say that many Agatha Christie plays would never have been written at all but for his judicious mixture of persuasion, encouragement, confidence and pleading. She adored it all, and certainly, we all recognise what The Mousetrap owed Peter in its earlier days. His confidence in it never wavered and its longevity is as much a tribute to his great partnership with my grandmother as to anything else.
It is inevitable perhaps that my own impressions of my grandmother are rather personal ones. She was, above all, a family person and through everybody, from the literary world, from the world of archaeology and from the stage has good reason to be grateful to her it is her family who have the most to be grateful for – her kindness, her charity, and for just being herself.
Questions & Answers Todd Carty Who Plays Major Metcalf
What attracted you to The Mousetrap?
I saw it about 40 years ago, when I was a much younger man, and when I got the call ‘Would you like to be in The Mousetrap?’ I didn’t hesitate. I remembered it being such a great play and I’ve always been an Agatha Christie fan, having first gotten hooked on her storytelling by seeing the Margaret Rutherford/Miss Marple films on TV. Now here I am 40 years later playing Major Metcalf in the UK and Ireland tour. It’s fantastic.
How would you describe Major Metcalf and his role in the story?
He’s a retired Army major and one of the guests in a guesthouse in the countryside. All of the characters have a secret and a mysterious background that audiences can’t quite put a finger on. The fourth wall, namely the audience, become detectives trying to work out who’s up to skulduggery and who isn’t, along with the real detective on stage. Major Metcalf is a typical ex-Army guy. He enjoys the odd drop of brandy in the evening and maybe the odd drop of Scotch at lunch. On the face of it he seems to want to help people but every now and then the characters in the play disappear and we don’t know what they’re up to, Major Metcalf included.
The show is celebrating its 70th anniversary. How do you account for its longevity?
I honestly don’t know. That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? We’re opening at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, where it premiered back in 1952, and it’s been going in the West End and on tour ever since. I think basically we all like a whodunnit because we’re all amateur detectives, we’re all modern day Columbos. I’ve been to see the show again recently and in the audience there are kids 13 right up to grandmas and granddads, all going ‘He did it’ or ‘No, it was her or him’. When I first saw it I couldn’t quite work it out myself but it’s great fun trying to figure out who the killer is.
Does it surprise you, especially in an era of social media, that audiences don’t spill any secrets about who the murderer is?
It does, yes. Maybe there are things online and with all the social media nowadays it’s very hard to keep a secret, but for some reason people honour the request not to reveal any secrets once they’ve seen the show. And following on from what I said earlier, it’s a family show. It’s got ups and downs, twists and turns, with a gentle humour to it. The fact it’s still going strong shows that nothing beats a good story, a good mystery and good old-fashioned entertainment.
You came to fame in Grange Hill. What are your memories of that time?
Not to give my age away, I’d been acting since I was four. I loved doing all those adverts when I first started out but Grange Hill changed my whole life. One day I was happily going to school, the next day I was Tucker Jenkins. The day before it first aired in 1978 nobody on the tube knew who I was, then the next day it was ‘Bang’. Anonymity was a thing of the past.
What have been your favourite jobs over the years?
I loved doing EastEnders and The Bill. I did five years on and off playing Patsy in Spamalot and that was brilliant. I’d sing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life every night and there’d be seven and eight year olds singing along, Mum and Dad singing it, Granny and Granddad, and they all knew the words. Being in a show like that is almost like being in therapy.
What do you most enjoy about doing stage work?
It sounds obvious and clichéd but it’s the audience. When you’re doing a panto and all the kids are getting involved and shouting back, going ‘Oh yes he did’ and ‘Oh no he didn’t’, it’s a great feeling. Plays are different but the audience is listening to every word, and with The Mousetrap they’re thinking ‘Ooh, I thought it was so and so’. I love live theatre and it’s especially pleasing now, after the pandemic when people who work in theatre had a really tough time. It’s great being around other actors and crew members again. There was a time long gone by when we took it for granted but now it feels like we’re all ten feet tall. It’s a lovely feeling. I can’t tell you how much it warms our hearts to be back in front of an audience.
Why do you think Agatha Christie is the most successful novelist of all time?
She’s been translated into so many different languages, which helps. And I do think we’re all amateur sleuths. We love trying to work out who did the bad deed. The Mousetrap is probably her most famous story and it’s a prime example of her skill at creating interesting characters and intriguing plots.
What are you most looking forward to about taking the show around the country?
Just the different reactions from different audiences. They always vary depending on where you are in the country and every night is different, with different reactions to different parts of the show. The show is hugely popular in the West End and it’s done quite a few tours over the years. With this one marking the 70th anniversary, it’s even more special. There’s a real appetite now for seeing good shows and supporting theatre. A lot of the people coming along will be Agatha Christie fans but they also tend to bring family members and friends with them, saying ‘You’ve got to come and see this’. That means a whole new audience is introduced to the show as well as existing fans. As for the cast and crew, we’ve been really happy during rehearsals and I’m sure we’ll be just as happy when we’re on the road.
Are there any stops on the tour that are dear to your heart?
For me being an Irish boy, with an Irish mother, Dublin and Cork are very special stops on the tour. I’m very proud of my Irish background, having had an Irish passport for over 40 years. Before the jet set holidays in the late 60s and early 70s I used to go and visit my cousins in Ashbourne in County Meath mainly, then the next year during the summer holidays they would come over to England. I’ll be seeing them again when I’m over there and hopefully.., well, I say hopefully but I can promise you I’ll be having a few drops of the Black Stuff.
Questions & Answers With Catherine Shipton Who Plays Mrs. Boyle
The Mousetrap is celebrating its 70th anniversary. How does it feel to be a part of such an historic tour?
It’s such an iconic play and I love Agatha Christie, so it was a complete no-brainer when the opportunity arose - particularly with this character. The Mousetrap has sort of been a backdrop to my life because it’s always been there, so it’s really exciting to now be in it. When it comes to Agatha Christie stories it’s the jewel in the crown.
Why do you think it has lasted this long?
It’s based on a real story and it’s something that really moved Christie. I was listening to a documentary about it and it knocked the war off the front pages because it was so horrific and so shocking. I think because she based it on a true story it chimes with audiences.
Also the events all happen in 24 hours, where all the characters are stuck in a house because of a blizzard, and it’s a delicious perfect storm. Even the weather is a character in it. Everything has to be resolved, so the tension is high from the get-go. It seems like it is the blizzard that’s brought these people together, then we discover that in a strange way they’re linked or have secrets and pasts. The structure makes it very pleasing to watch as it all unfolds.
How would you describe Mrs Boyle (without giving spoilers of course!)?
She’s not a nasty piece of work in a sense that she’s evil or immoral, but she is brusque and has very high expectations. She uses the word ‘should’ a lot. She’s got a real idea of how things should be and if people don’t meet those standards she has no qualms about voicing her displeasure. She’s opinionated, she’s prejudiced and she’s bigoted, but she has also suffered personal events in her life that she doesn’t want people to know about. It’s much easier for her to go on the attack and that’s what she does. She’s certainly a piece of work.
Why do you think audiences love a whodunnit?
Well, I love a whodunnit myself. It’s that classic appeal of trying to work things out. If it’s well-structured then you’ll have red herrings, you’ll have clues that are going to throw you off, dead ends. It’s about solving a puzzle. One of the things about The Mousetrap is that there’s more psychology within that puzzle. People’s motivations are thrashed out a bit more. And the subject of the piece - because of the true story behind it - is very relevant to our society today, even though it dates back to 1940’s. In terms of people’s motivations, perhaps we don’t change as much as we think we do.
How would you sum up the genius of Agatha Christie as a writer?
She’s a very good storyteller. She’s very observant of human nature and she can sum a character up in a line. It’s not over-egged. It’s kind of spare writing, whether you’re in the audience or reading the books, but at the same time she absolutely gets it.
Have you worked with any of your castmates previously?
I haven’t, no. It’s fantastic because it’s a lovely group of people - a very hardworking and talented bunch. We’re all bonding really well.
You played Lisa ‘Duffy’ Duffin on Casualty for many years. Is that the role the public most recognize you for?
Oh yes, of course. That’s why this is such a departure for me. Although she could put people in their place and she could be tough when needed, Duffy was sympathetic and passionate, patient and kind. Mrs Boyle is the complete opposite and it’s great to go down that route. It’s a great acting challenge but yes, Duffy is the character I’m most known for.
What have been your career highlights?
In absolute honestly Casualty is way up there because it spanned nearly 30 years of my life at different times. I was honored to create and play a character who seemed to have so much impact on people’s lives, judging by the letters and messages I received.
A fun job I did years ago was the Spice Girls movie. They said, ‘We must have that nurse off Casualty’. They asked, ‘Did you take up acting after you became a nurse?’ and I took that as a compliment. They were very hardworking young women and driving through all the fans in the morning to get onto set it was like ‘Oh my God, this is another world!’
When were you last on stage and how is it returning to the theatre?
I did a one-woman show in 2012 called Soldiers’ Wives, which I took to Edinburgh where I was nominated for Best Solo Performer. I toured with it in 2013 and I was going to reprise it in 2020, then of course we had lockdown. So I haven’t had the chance to take to the stage for ten years. Getting to rehearse on the stage at the St Martin’s Theatre, where the London production of The Mousetrap has been playing for 70 years, was fantastic. It was great being on the actual set. Often you’re in rehearsal rooms and it can be quite a leap to go from that to the set. And being on stage is home from home in a way. Whether you’re on-camera or on-stage, you’re telling a story, and I especially love the live-ness of theatre. [Laughs] It can be absolutely terrifying but exciting at the same time.
What are you most looking forward to about the tour?
The lovely thing about touring is that you get to see how fantastic Britain is. You get to see so much of this wonderful country and I love that aspect of it. You have to be a bit of a snail and take your home with you or you make your home wherever you go.
Is there anything you couldn’t be on the road without?
My yoga mat, for sure. I still read books and I don’t like to do it online, so I’ll have a good stash of books with me. The thing I will really miss are my dogs. I’ve got a Collie puppy and a lurcher. It’ll be a bit strange not having them around.
Are there any stops on the tour that are dear to your heart?
Bristol is like my second home because Casualty was filmed in there after the first year of it being done in London. I nearly moved to Bristol, and I met people like Brenda Fricker, who I’m still in touch with. I met people who are now friends for life. A lot of them will be coming along to see the show there, which will be lovely. We also go to Aberdeen and Inverness in Scotland and I spent a lot of time up there with the National Theatre when I toured with Hiawatha many, many years ago.