Sixty-eight years ago today, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End. It played every day for all those years, only going dark this March when Covid-19 made live theatre unsafe.
That makes The Mousetrap the longest-running show of its kind in the world. Agatha Christie herself is the best-selling novelist of all time, with estimated sales of around two billion. And yet, when people are asked to name her best-known work, The Mousetrap is rarely mentioned. Instead, people point to Murder on the Orient Express, or The Murder of Roger Akroyd, or And Then There Were None.
That lack of recognition wouldn’t have surprised Christie. The Mousetrap was originally written at the request of the BBC as a radio play for Queen Mary, and when it moved onto the stage, Christie didn’t expect it to last more than six or eight months.
But it outlived her. Since its opening in 1952, it’s been presented in 27 languages in more than 50 countries. Over 460 actors and actresses have appeared in it, and some have made records doing it. David Raven is in the Guinness Book of Records for 4575 performances as Major Metcalf and the late Nancy Seabrooke made it there for her 15 years as an understudy.
As creators, we can never gauge the impact of our work. We might think we’ve written or created a masterpiece – a work of art – only to find the rest of the world disagrees. Or we might create something rather quickly, with joy and skill and attention to our craft, but not expect it to amount to much. And yet, that something might grow legs and end up impacting people in ways we never imagined.
It’s a bit like the butterfly effect: the idea that small things can have non-linear impacts in a big way. Only in Agatha Christie’s case, it was a little mouse. A mouse that roared for 68 years.