"Mousetrap" play enters 60th year with plan to expand

LONDON Fri Nov 25, 2011 6:33am EST

LONDON (Reuters) - The big mystery may be why it hasn't happened before, but Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" -- the longest-running show in the world -- will finally tour Britain in 2012 to mark its 60th birthday.

The play's diamond jubilee falls on November 25, 2012, and on Friday as it enters its 60th year, organizers announced a series of events to celebrate the landmark.

Friday's performance will be the 24,587th, yet for all its popularity, the show's producer said he wanted more.

"I'm very conscious that although we've had good houses for 60 years, the amount of people who've seen the show in London is about the same as a single show of 'Downton Abbey'," said Stephen Waley-Cohen, referring to the hit British drama on ITV which attracts up to 10 million viewers per episode.

He added that other plays had enjoyed a new lease of life when they toured outside London.

"I've been aware that tours of many shows have enhanced their performance in London if they have been done to very high standards, most recently 'Yes, Prime Minister' and 'Mamma Mia!'," Waley-Cohen told Reuters.

"I believe a high quality tour done as a major event will be good for London as well as for the 60 cities it visits."

The murder mystery began life as a radio play broadcast in 1947 which was then turned by its author into a short story and later into a full play.

"KEEP THE SECRET"

Richard Attenborough and his wife Sheila Sim starred in the original 1952 production at The Ambassadors Theater, and actors ever since have repeated his curtain speech urging audiences to keep the identity of the murderer to themselves.

Asked to explain the secret of The Mousetrap's success, Waley-Cohen replied:

"No one really knows, but I think it's two main things. One is the play is really good storytelling -- it grabs your attention and holds your attention.

"It's (also) got contemporary resonances in child abuse and a young woman who may or may not be what she seems to be, a young man who may or may not be what he seems to be, the sinister foreigner.

"They may sound like caricatures, but Agatha Christie was much cleverer as a writer than that."

As part of the 60th celebrations, The Mousetrap will tour Britain for the first time starting in September, 2012 at the Marlowe Theater in Canterbury.

It is expected to visit most of the country's main regional theatres during its run of up to 60 weeks and each star actor will perform for 12 weeks.

Mousetrap Productions has licensed 60 productions of the play worldwide, and several countries will be seeing it for the first time.

Mousetrap Theater Projects, a leading theater education charity, will also run a new writing project at 60 primary schools across London at which pupils will write their own short mysteries.

A charity fee of 60 pence ($1) per ticket will also be introduced to benefit charities working with young people and the arts.

Waley-Cohen said The Mousetrap, like many other top West End productions, has survived the financial crisis relatively well.

West End box office receipts hit a record high of 512 million pounds ($794 million) in 2010, and he expected "somewhere close" to that figure in 2011.

($1 = 0.6449 British pounds)

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White)

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