Caught At Last: Some Personal Notes on The Mousetrap

Well, we ended the year in a jam. None too comfortable in a tight squeeze, I nonetheless joined the throng on Waterloo Bridge for the customary year-end countdown and fireworks. We had just gotten out of The Mousetrap, which snapped shut for the 22957th time last night. Opening in 1952, Agatha Christie’s thriller—which started out as a radio play titled “Three Blind Mice” back in 1947—is still packing them in like red herrings in a jar at the St. Martin’s Theatre (pictured below). So, what’s the attraction?

Like most readers, I discovered Christie’s mysteries in my early teens; as a gay male, I did not feel myself represented by the average juvenile fare and was too puzzled and scared to seek out works that might hold a mirror to my androgynous if pimply visage. The impersonal killings perpetrated and neatly solved in the quaint whodunits of the late “Queen of Crime” were just the kind of rest cure my troubled mind seemed to demand.

There was something reassuring in the curlings of Hercule Poirot’s mustachios, the armchair as an intellectual retreat, the assorted young ne’er-do-goods among Christie’s long lists of suspects, as well as the less-than-physically fit busibody of that little old lady who could. It inspired me to try my brains at composing a whodunit, even though, despite numerous attempts, I only managed a revenge comedy whose German title loosely translates as “And All the Worst for the New Year.”

Nowadays, the Christie puzzlers with their lazy prose and perfunctory characterizations do no longer seem quite so satisfying to me; but, as if in gratitude for seeing me through those terrible years, I still catch up with Christie and her works from time to time, whether on television, in the theater, or on my travels. A few years ago, quite by chance, I found myself in the author’s quarters at the Pera Palas Hotel in Istanbul—on the anniversary of her birth, no less.

Back in December 2005, I took in a stage adaptation of And Then There Were None (briefly discussed here). And Then is one of the few works in the Christie canon that is not merely clever but genuinely unnerving.

While well oiled, The Mousetrap is rather less snappy and gripping, despite its opening in the dark to the strains of “Three Blind Mice” and a woman’s piercing scream. The rather superior Gay Lambert (as the troublesome Mrs. Boyle) aside, the current cast of The Mousetrap, which originally starred Sir Richard Attenborough (pictured here on the poster for the play), is as capable as a group of figures in a game of Clue. Little more is expected of Christie’s characters, which fall flat when they are meant to be round.

There is, of course, that queer young fellow named Christopher Wren, just the kind of chap whose welcome presence in the generally impersonal board game tableaux of Agatha Christie, told me, all those years ago, that there was a place for the likes of me in a world filled with hazards, traps, and processed cheese.

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