Tag Archives: London’s theatres

The Mousetrap ensnares tourists

The definition of a Londoner, it could be said, is someone who hasn’t seen The Mousetrap, the world’s longest running stage play, having played over 25,000 performances since opening in November 1952 over six months before the Queen’s Coronation.

[W]ritten by Agatha Christie as a radio play entitled Three Blind Mice and broadcast in 1947, she rewrote the whodunit for the stage and The Mousetrap opened at The Ambassadors Theatre on 25th November 1952 before transferring to its present location, the beautiful St. Martin’s Theatre next door 22 years later.

In the record books

The play entered the record books on 12th April 1958 becoming the longest running show in the history of the British theatre (shows didn’t have the longevity they do today).

The first leading roles were played by Sir Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim and over time 382 actors have appeared in its production. David Raven entered the Guinness Book of Records as the ‘Most Durable Actor’ for his 4,575 performances as Major Metcalf and spare a thought for the late Nancy Seabrook who spent 15 years as an understudy.

Even the scenery must hold some kind of record lasting 50 years before being replaced in 2000, without a loss of a single performance, still faithful the original design.

Capture-1I saw the play in the late 1960’s, although I’m not disclosing who did it (does that make me a non-Londoner?), and you expected the entire production to appear in black-and-white as the set and dialogue was reminiscent of the early British films.

Tally of performances

The theatre seats 550 and in the foyer many tourists have themselves photographed by a wooden sign informing the audience how many performances have appeared on stage. Most don’t go to see the play for it is part of the London experience with the audience as much a part of the proceedings as the cast.

The person who probably has the best experience of The Mousetrap has to be Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, to whom she gave the rights to the play on his 9th birthday.

The producer and promoter of the original production was Peter Saunders, married to Katie Boyle who in the 1960’s presented The Eurovision Song Contest which brought viewers attention to the memorable line ‘Nul points’ – strange that.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 30th November 2012

The Plagiarised Play

Currently running at the Duchess Theatre is a play in which the protagonists attempt to stage a play in which everything goes wrong. Lauded with praise The Play That Goes Wrong was the 2015 Olivier Award Winner for Best New Comedy and called a ‘gut-busting hit’ by the New York Times. It is only included here as it was plagiarised from the far more impressive, Intimate Review which on 11th March 1930 opened and closed at the Duchess Theatre on the same night.

[T]he curtain rose on the Intimate Review revealing a stage so cluttered with props there was hardly room for the actors. Pickford’s should have been employed for scene changes as each one took 20 minutes. The audience were soon enjoying the unintended comedy as every time the curtain parted squads of scene-shifters would stare out at the audience, frozen with fear like rabbits caught in a car’s headlights.

Miss Florence McHugh’s romantic set piece ‘Hawaiian Idyll’ sung while pacing a sandy beach with a blue backdrop representing a Pacific sky was slightly marred by the sight of two scene-shifters arguing behind the transparent backcloth.

The narrative was taking so long to unfold the producers decided to edit the penultimate scenes and move on to the grand finale. Greek nymphs entered stage left each wearing a large cumbersome headdress, two of which then proceeded to become entangled and while Miss McHugh valiantly sung the closing song as the remaining nymphs tried in vain to disentangle their two hapless companions.

According to the Manchester Guardian’s critic who having enjoyed the unintended comedy immensely wrote:

Spectators returned to their seats to be in at the death, to laugh with the conquered, not at them, and give a sporting cheer. Thumbs up or thumbs down? Who cares? Our good humour is restored. The show takes its final breath and, with a death rattle, expires. Enough!

Everyone involved agreed and issued a brief statement apologising for the debacle:

Everyone concerned was so much in agreement with the criticism of last night’s performance that its closure was decided upon promptly. In regard to the accommodation on stage there was certainly an appearance of overcrowding.

They promised to re-open later in the year, but it would be another 84 years before another hapless production was shown at this theatre to a West End audience.

As a footnote: The accolade of the world’s shortest review which was staged at the Duchess Theatre, was the show A Good Time receiving the one-word critique: “No”.

Loo of the Year

I am afraid that it is too late for you to cast your vote for this year’s Loo of the Year Award.

This competition is run by the British Toilet Association who present plaques to the worthy winners every year, and it’s a fair bet that you are unlikely to find these awards to cleanliness and service to the public displayed outside the diminishing number of public toilets in London.

[I] was reminded of this rather worthy competition on a recent visit to the public convenience (an oxymoron being distinctly anti-public and inconvenient) at All-Nations opposite the Royal Albert Hall.

This popular Green Hut allows cabbies to park up without being given a ticket, provides the necessary sustenance for driving the cab and importantly somewhere to go to the toilet. Now what was once a free ‘public convenience’ charges 50p to ‘spend a penny’, rendering the old euphemism about using the loo absurdly out of date. A family with two children would need £2 just to allow them to go to the toilet.

Remarkably Harrods a short walk away with marbled floors, teak fittings and a choice of hand washes and perfumes only charge £1 for their facilities. Harrods understands that public toilets stimulate the economy by making visitors entering their store feel more welcome and thus more likely to spend money.

While many authorities seems to want to abrogate their responsibility and as with parking councils positively discriminate against visitors visiting their high streets.

With today’s anti-social behaviour it hasn’t been easy for councils to maintain public toilets: obscene graffiti; the need for vandal resistant hand-dryers; some authorities employing suffused soft blue lighting redolent of an 1980s upmarket night club (apparently for heroin users it is extremely difficult to find a vein under ultra-violet light); and predatory men all thrown into the mix.

With our coffee drinking culture and the widespread inability to walk more than 100 yards without draining a bottle of the oh-so fashionable mineral water clean public toilets are in greater demand than ever.

The civic pride of Victorians has not been lost altogether. On a recent visit to Hatfield House situated just north of London, they have built a pseudo-Elizabethan toilet: oak doors, roof beams and with a nod to modernity spotless white tiles. With Hatfield’s recently opened children’s farm Hatfield understood the toilets importance. I can’t think of a suitable London contender for the Loo of the Year Awards, maybe I’ll cast my vote with Hatfield next year.

Tip Top Hat

When times are hard we tend to want escapist entertainment. Some of the greatest musicals were penned in the austere years following in Wall Street Crash during the depression of the 1930s. Many of these are the classics that are screened on television on Sunday afternoons.

We must be going through tough times again for no fewer than 31 musicals are playing or opening soon in the West End.

[L]ast week we went to the Aldwych Theatre to see Top Hat a musical loosely based on the 1935 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. The original version was based on a play written by Alexander Farago which seems rather appropriate for a story based on the single premise. Yes Shakespeare made a good living writing these plot lines, but for Top Hat this is the only plot line.

Starring Tom Chambers, who won Strictly Come Dancing a few years ago, and Summer Strallen who both thankfully don’t try to reprise the Astaire/Rogers routine but give the numbers a modern twist.

They make a sterling job of injecting life into the routines. Chambers is personable and a very good dancer, while Strallen is attractive and manages to convey sensuousness in the routine Wild About You.

As the audience tends to be well past their prime the two leads manage to keep the auditorium awake. But beware when climbing the stairs, Zimmer frames and sticks are the order of the day.

The sets have an Art Deco look and I particularly liked the stage device to imagine somebody dancing on the floor above Ms. Stratten by having a dancer in a stage above her in shadow, mimicking Tom Chambers on stage.

If you like black and white Sunday afternoon films don’t miss this piece of nostalgia. But for me they left out The Continental, yes I know it was from the Gay Divorcee and not written by Irving Berlin but it should have been included.

Or maybe it was and at my time of life I had dozed off for 5 minutes.

The Mousetrap ensnares tourists

The definition of a Londoner, it could be said, is someone who hasn’t seen The Mousetrap, the world’s longest running stage play, having played over 25,000 performances since opening in November 1952 over six months before the Queen’s Coronation.

Written by Agatha Christie as a radio play entitled Three Blind Mice and broadcast in 1947, she rewrote the whodunit for the stage and The Mousetrap was first seen exactly 60 years ago this week, opening at The Ambassadors Theatre on 25th November 1952 before transferring to its present location, the beautiful St. Martin’s Theatre next door 22 years later.

[T]he play entered the record books on 12th April 1958 becoming the longest running show in the history of the British theatre (shows didn’t have the longevity they do today).

The first leading roles were played by Sir Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim and over time 382 actors have appeared in its production. David Raven entered the Guinness Book of Records as the ‘Most Durable Actor’ for his 4,575 performances as Major Metcalf and spare a thought for the late Nancy Seabrook who spent 15 years as an understudy.

Even the scenery must hold some kind of record lasting 50 years before being replaced in 2000, without a loss of a single performance, still faithful the original design.

Capture-1I saw the play in the late 60’s (does that make me a non-Londoner?), and you expected the entire production to appear in black-and-white as the set and dialogue was reminiscent of the early British films.

The theatre seats 550 and in the foyer many tourists have themselves photographed by a wooden sign informing the audience how many performances have appeared on stage. Most don’t go to see the play for it is part of the London experience with the audience as much a part of the proceedings as the cast.

The person who probably has the best experience of The Mousetrap has to be Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, to whom she gave the rights to the play on his 9th birthday.

The producer and promoter of the original production was Peter Saunders, married to Katie Boyle who in the 1960’s presented The Eurovision Song Contest which brought viewers attention to the memorable line ‘Nul points’ – strange that.