World’s longest-running play, ‘The Mousetrap’ springs mystery in Philly

A group of people are trapped in an English country mansion during a snowstorm. One of them is killed. Who did it?

The premise of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” is one of the most recognized in the world. The murder mystery as been staged continuously in London’s West End since 1952.

Now, the longest-running play in history is getting its Philadelphia premiere.

For 60 years, “The Mousetrap” has been staged continually in the West End, clocking in nearly 25,000 performances. Only one production is permitted to be staged outside of the West End; for 26 years that production was in Toronto, where it became Canada’s longest-running play.

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It has never been published in the U.K., and it has never been made into a movie.

“A man purchased the film rights on condition he couldn’t make the movie until it came off,” said stage director Malcolm Black. “He died years ago. It was a bad investment.”

Black is now directing “The Mousetrap” at the Walnut Street Theater, one of 60 theaters worldwide selected to stage the play as part of a 60-year anniversary celebration.

“The other day I was in the lobby, and I heard some people chatting, and the man said, ‘I’m going on Thursday. I just love that play.’ ” said Black. “It never occurred to me that if you had seen it, you’d want to see it again. If you’ve seen it, you know who the murderer is.”

Black says the script is tight as a drum, leaving little creative wiggle room lest the puzzle pieces no longer fit.

The play is famous for its surprise ending, and a plea from the stage that the audience members not divulge the ending to their friends. For many visitors on package tours, that coda is as much a part of their holiday as the Tower of London and Madame Tussaud’s.

“That feeds into the excitement of being a very small cognoscenti that knows the ending,” said professor Priya Joshi, who is teaching a course on the detective novel at Temple University.

“This is pre-Internet, so the ending wouldn’t be known any way other than the play because the short story on which the play is based, and the play itself, are not allowed to be published until the play is not in production,” she said.

Of course, now the identity of the murderer can be found [here]. Just kidding.

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