On this date in 1952 The Mousetrap, a murder mystery play by Agatha Christie opened in the West End of London and has been running continuously since then. It has by far the longest initial run of any play in history, with its 25,000th performance taking place on 18 November 2012. It is the longest running show (of any type) of the modern era. The play is also known for its twist ending, which the audience is traditionally asked not to reveal after leaving the theatre.
The play began life as a short radio play broadcast on 30 May 1947 called Three Blind Mice dedicated to Queen Mary. The play had its origins in the real-life case of the death of a boy, Dennis O’Neill, who died while in the foster care of a Shropshire farmer and his wife in 1945.
The play is based on a short story, itself based on the radio play, but Christie asked that the story not be published as long as it ran as a play in the West End of London. The short story has still not been published within the United Kingdom but it has appeared in the United States in the 1950 collection Three Blind Mice and Other Stories.
When she wrote the play, Christie gave the rights to her grandson Matthew Prichard as a birthday present. In the United Kingdom, only one production of the play in addition to the West End production can be performed annually, and under the contract terms of the play, no film adaptation can be produced until the West End production has been closed for at least six months.
The play had to be renamed at the insistence of Emile Littler who had produced a play called Three Blind Mice in the West End before the Second World War. The suggestion to call it The Mousetrap came from Christie’s son-in-law, Anthony Hicks. In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, “The Mousetrap” is Hamlet’s answer to Claudius’s inquiry about the name of the play whose prologue and first scene the court has just observed (III, ii). The play is actually “The Murder of Gonzago,” but Hamlet answers metaphorically, since “the play’s the thing” in which he intends to “catch the conscience of the king.”
The Mousetrap’s longevity has ensured its popularity with tourists from around the world. In 1997, at the initiative of producer Stephen Waley-Cohen, the theatrical education charity Mousetrap Theatre Projects was launched, helping young people experience London’s theatre.
As a stage play, The Mousetrap had its world premiere at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham on 6 October 1952. It was originally directed by Peter Cotes, elder brother of John and Roy Boulting, the film directors. Its pre-West End tour then took it to the New Theatre Oxford, the Manchester Opera House, the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, the Grand Theatre Leeds and the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham before it began its run in London on 25 November 1952 at the Ambassadors Theatre. It ran at this theatre until Saturday, 23 March 1974 when it immediately transferred to the larger St Martin’s Theatre, next door, where it reopened on Monday, 25 March thus keeping its “initial run” status. The London run has now exceeded 25,000 performances. The director of the play for many years has been David Turner.
Christie herself did not expect The Mousetrap to run for such a long time. In her autobiography, she reports a conversation that she had with Peter Saunders: “Fourteen months I am going to give it”, says Saunders. To which Christie replies, “It won’t run that long. Eight months perhaps. Yes, I think eight months.” When it broke the record for the longest run of a play in the West End in September 1957, Christie received a mildly grudging telegram from fellow playwright Noël Coward: “Much as it pains me I really must congratulate you …” In 2011 (by which time The Mousetrap had been running for almost 59 years) this long-lost document was found by a Cotswold furniture maker who was renovating a bureau purchased by a client from the Christie estate.
The original West End cast included Richard Attenborough as Detective Sergeant Trotter and his wife Sheila Sim as Mollie Ralston. They took a 10% profit-participation in the production, which was paid for out of their combined weekly salary (“It proved to be the wisest business decision I’ve ever made… but foolishly I sold some of my share to open a short-lived Mayfair restaurant called ‘The Little Elephant’ and later still, disposed of the remainder in order to keep Gandhi afloat.”
Since the retirement of Mysie Monte and David Raven, who each made history by remaining in the cast for more than 11 years, in their roles as Mrs Boyle and Major Metcalf, the cast has been changed annually. The change usually occurs around late November around the anniversary of the play’s opening, and was the initiative of Sir Peter Saunders, the original producer. There is a tradition of the retiring leading lady and the new leading lady cutting a “Mousetrap cake” together.
The play has also made theatrical history by having an original “cast member” survive all the cast changes since its opening night. The late Deryck Guyler can still be heard, via a recording, reading the radio news bulletin in the play to this present day. The set has been changed in 1965 and 1999, but one prop survives from the original opening – the clock which sits on the mantelpiece of the fireplace in the main hall
“Mousetrap” is old Brit slang for cheese that is inedible (hence used in mousetraps). Remember – the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. Well, I figured I would turn this on its head and talk about exotic and extraordinary cheeses. I figured one twist, to match the twist ending of the play, would be to talk about cheeses that are not made from cow’s milk. But whilst I am at it I thought I should exclude sheep and goat milk too. Not exotic enough. That brings me to Pule.
Pule, Serbian donkey milk cheese (produced at Zasavica Special Nature Reserve in Serbia), is reportedly the world’s most expensive cheese, fetching around 1,000 Euros per kilogram. In September 2013, the cheese was valued by a news source at $600 USD per pound. It is so expensive because of its rarity: there are only about 100 jennies in the landrace of Balkan donkeys that are milked for pule making. Each jenny must be hand-milked three times daily and it takes 25 liters (6.6 gallons) of milk to make one kilo (2.2 pounds) of cheese. Incidentally, it is reputed that Cleopatra bathed in donkey milk to maintain her skin tone.
Moose milk cheese is also rare, not because lactating moose are particularly rare, but because milking them is an exceedingly delicate matter. You have to sit with the female in complete silence for about 2 hours to produce 2 liters of milk. This cheese is only made in Sweden by the Moose House, produced from the milk of Gullan, Haelga, and Juno, three cows abandoned by their mother and adopted by the Johannson family. Moose lactate only from May to September. Each animal produces about 5 liters (1.3 gallons) of milk per day, so each year the farm can only offer 300 kg (660 pounds) of cheese. The cheese contains 12 percent fat and 12 percent protein.
Tibetans and Nepalis have been using yak milk for centuries, but its use for cheese is relatively new, largely due to the influence of Westerners. This site gives a good overview of introducing nomadic Tibetans to the production of Yak cheese.
The problem was that cheese as a product did not appeal to the Yak herders’ tastes—who wants to eat rotten milk? But it is now being produced and exported to the West as a way of providing economic aid to the herders. You can get it mail order.
Finally I give you mare’s milk cheese. Here I am devolving more than usually into the realms of the unknown. Mare’s milk is typically fermented into a drink known as koomis, which is mildly alcoholic. I’ve had it once in a Turkic region of Russia and cannot say that I am in love with it. Then again I had it for breakfast with some industrial-strength dumplings after a night of dancing with local villagers, so it is possible my palate was off. Mare’s milk does not have enough casein and fat to make cheese without mixing it with other milks. In case you are curious, human milk has the same problem. I have it on good authority that mare’s milk cheese can be found in NW China, so it’s on my list. I’m not that far away. Well, it’s a hike, but not like getting there from Buenos Aires.
So have at it. Celebrate The Mousetrap with the most exotic cheese plate you can muster. Here’s one valued at $3,200 and includes gold flecked white stilton as well as Pule and other rarities.