("Bizarre" is probably a better word than remarkable. Let's put this in perspective. The current record for longest-running Broadway show is Phantom of the Opera, which is still running in New York after 26 years. The second longest-running Broadway show is the revival of Chicago, still going after 18 years. Put those two shows together, and they're still 18 years short of The Mousetrap. It's nearing 26,000 performances. When My Fair Lady was the great phenomenon on Broadway, it ran for 2,717 performances.)
This video below really doesn't give a great sense of the play, and is a bit stylized, more so than that play -- though given that the play opened in 1952, it certainly comes from a very different and stylized era. But there's a bit of nice history in the piece, and archival material in the piece. At one point they discuss why it's lasted so long, and really don't touch on the reason. They talk about what a great mystery it is, and how hard it is to guess whodunnit. And it is a wonderful mystery -- but honestly, that hardly explains 60 freaking years. It's wonderful, it's not that wonderful. That might help explain why it lasted three or four years, but that's about it. But 60??
What helps is that the theater it opened in, the Ambassadors, is fairly small for a major West End house, so it didn't need to draw a huge audience. What took it over the hump, it's hard to say, but what I believed ultimately happened is that it became a tourist attraction, which benefited by coinciding coincide with the growth in air travel and tourism. When in London, you went to see Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Parliament...and The Mousetrap. And again, being a small theater, it didn't take much to be filled. And then once you hit about 10-12 years, you've almost solidified your status.
When I was a little kid, I went to see The Mousetrap with my older brother John. (My folks went to see a play next door, I believe it was The Killing of Sister George, at the St. Martin's -- where The Mousetrap later moved and has been for the past 40 years or so.) I got a poster at the time, and remembered being a little disappointed that it proclaimed its 16th year -- I'd wished the number was smaller. Little did I recognize that after 62 years now, that "16" would look more impressive.
The plot is pure, quintessential Agatha Christie. A group of people have gathered in a secluded country manor, when a police inspector shows up to say that there's a murderer in the area -- and they all end up getting snowed in and stranded, with the murderer not only in the area, but right in their midst. In fairness to all those people in the video saying what a great mystery it is and how difficult it is to guess, I do have a story to relate.
I had read the short story that the play is based on, so at intermission I asked my brother who he thought did it. I won't give away any names, but after pondering things a few moments, what he said was --
"I think it was so-and-so." I didn't answer, just sat there impassively. Before I could reply though (not that I was planning to...), he quickly said again, "No, wait! Don't say anything, I changed my mind. I think it was so-and-so."
Again, I didn't answer, and once more he interrupted himself. "Wait, no. I think it was so-and-so....No, hold on, no, not him, I think it was her." I just sat there silent. "Wait, wait, no, I think it was..."
I am not exaggerating this. I swear to you that my brother went through EVERY character in the play.
Actually, no, that's not true. He went through every single character in the play and named every one as the murderer...except for the person who was the murderer.
It was hilarious. I just sat there, impassively, not answering him, just saying that we'll see if he was right when the play was over. Just restraint was impressive for a little kid, not ridiculing his older brother. "Hahahaha! You named everybody in the play! Except the character who did it!!! Hahahaha!!
Mind you, I did chide him when the play was over.
(By the way, another remarkable thing to consider about The Mousetrap. Its secret of whodunnit has been largely kept for 62 years! I suspect at this point that there's fun in seeing the show even for those who know who the murderer is. But still...)
I do remember after the play, when we waited for our parents to leave the theater next door -- it was a matinee -- the cast eventually left the Ambassadors, and we spoke with one of the actors, and I still have the program he signed. I didn't know who he was, and while he might have done a lot in London theater after that, he didn't become known in the U.S. But it was fun. And I still have the program. (Sorry, "programme.")
By the one, one of the funniest entertainment stories I've ever heard concerns The Mousetrap. Funny for most everyone, unless you're the rights holder. When The Mousetrap opened, Agatha Christie signed a contract with a producer for the movie rights to the play. So, why haven't you ever seen a movie of it? There was one stipulation in the contract -- no movie could be made until...yes, you guessed it... the play closed...!
That was 62 years ago.
Anyway, back to the present, or thereabouts. Here is the official video put out by The Mousetrap two years ago for their 60th anniversary.