I think anyone would be hard pressed to think of a better candidate to be memorialised in Theatreland than Agatha Christie. Of course, her enduring association with Theatreland is her murder mystery play, The Mousetrap, which has been running here continuously for 65 years (2017), or 60 years and 25,000 performances of the play when this memorial was dedicated in 2012.
While this, the world’s longest running stage production, is amazing in its own right, Agatha Christie (pictured below – credit Guardian Newspaper) is also, by far, the world’s best-selling novelist having now sold well over two billion books. Yes, that is billion!
The memorial was conceived by Christie’s grandson Mathew Prichard and Sir Stephen Waley Cohen (the current Producer of The Mousetrap).
The 2.4m high bronze memorial, by sculptor Ben Twiston-Davies, takes the form of a ‘leather bound’ book with a cut-out containing an over-life-size bust of the writer. The book sits atop a small selection of her novels, the titles of which are displayed on the spines, in some of fifty plus foreign languages (plus braille) into which Christie’s work has been translated. Quite a bit of information about the writer’s life and work is displayed on the base of the memorial. This information, I feel, is worth quoting verbatim:-
Agatha Christie, née Miller, was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, Devon. Educated at home, she acquired as a child her lifelong passion for reading and writing. Knowledge of poisons, gained as a pharmaceutical dispenser in the 1914-18 war, proved invaluable for her crime writing. She married Archie Christie in 1914; their daughter Rosalind was born in 1919.
A devotee of travel, she gave many books foreign settings, especially in the Middle East, where she assisted her second husband, thearchaeologist Max Mallowan, on his expeditions in Syria and Iraq. Her daughter, her son-in-law Anthony Hicks, her grandson Mathew Prichard, born in 1943, and all who knew it shared her great love for Greenway, her house on the River Dart, which her family later gave to the National Trust.
Agatha Christie was appointed Dame Commander of the BritishEmpire in 1971. She died on 12 January 1976.
Agatha Christie’s books have sold over two billion copies in 100 languages, more than any other modern writer. Her work has been widely adapted for the cinema, radio and television.
THE MOUSETRAP, the world’s longest-running show, opened in 1952 at the Ambassadors Theatre and has played at the St Martin’s Theatre since 1973. In 1954 she became the first woman to have three plays running in London at the same time.
Hercule Poirot, the all-knowing Belgian detective, made his bow in 1920 in Agatha Christie’s first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Miss Jane Marple, her all-seeing village spinster, followed a few years later.
THE MOUSETRAP, her many other plays, and more than eighty novels and books of short stories brought Agatha Christie world-wide fame in her lifetime. Through her unique understanding of human nature, her dramatic skills and mastery of the art of story-telling she has become one of the most successful and best loved writers of all time.
The decorative border at the top and bottom of the main book represents a celluloid film strip reminding the viewer of Christie’s film and TV productions and just below this the front and back covers are draped in theatrical swag curtains recognising her successful plays with the crest of The Mousetrap marking her most famous play. It was originally intended that that play be entitled Three Blind Mice but the fact that another production bore this title put an end to that idea. On the suggestion of Christie’s son-in-law the play’s title was changed to The Mousetrap – a mini play, within Shakespeare’s Hamlet, presenting the story of a murder carried out in Vienna.
Lest anyone wonder why The Mousetrap has not been released as a movie, a simple but effective clause within the show’s contract states that it cannot be so released until at least six months have elapsed after the closure of the play’s initial West End run. What film director or who else would have thought that sixty five years on that initial run would still be ongoing, with no end in sight?
Presumably not anticipating that play would be as successful as it has been Christie, as a birthday present, signed over the royalty rights in The Mousetrap to her nephew thus, in theory at least, never benefiting from the success of the play herself. I imagine the royalties from selling billions of books subsequently made up for this little faux pas.
My astute reader may jump in and point out that, as has been noted above, The Mousetrap has actually been performed in two London theatres in its 65 years run and may thus challenge the length of its (initial) run. Because there was only a one night break in performances while it moved theatres – across the street – it has been accepted that the run is continuous. In any event, by the time it moved venues it had already broken the world record for the longest running theatrical production – then at 21 years. The Mousetrap’s cast changes annually, in November around the anniversary of the play’s first production. That said, one member of the original cast still ‘performs’ nightly. At the beginning of the play there is a radio news bulletin which was read, and is still read – albeit a recording of the original is now used – by the late Deryck Guyler.
On the rear of the memorial book are embossed motifs of Christie’s most famous creations, Miss Marples and Hercule Poirot, together with a country house, the Orient Express and the Pyramids which appear in various of her murder mysteries.
The country house depicted is Christie’s Devon holiday home – ‘Greenway’ – where many of her works would have been written or conceived and which was also the setting for three of her fictional murders. Earlier today, by total coincidence, I was looking at the UK National Trust’s website and, lo and behold, it was promoting the final episode in its literary podcast series – an exploration of Greenway (pictured below – credit UK National Trust).
A couple of hundred metres from the memorial, in West Street, is St Martins Theatre where, as indicated above, The Mousetrap has been performed since 1973. It is well worth the short walk for a look if you are not attending a performance of the play. In addition to a blue plaque on wall, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the play in St Martins on 25 November 2002, there is displayed a quotation from the Financial Times which reads:–
‘The Mousetrap is to the West End Theatre what the ravens are to the Tower of London. Its disappearance could impoverish us. I love it. And the Theatre can quote me.”
Memorial location: At the intersection of Great Newport Street and Cranbourn Street, Covent Garden. The Hercule Poirots among my readership who have located the Metropolitan Coat Hook covered in another of my reviews need only turn around and look across the street to locate the Agatha Christie Memorial.