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Theatre / The Mousetrap

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A 1952 play by Agatha Christie adapted from her 1947 radio play, "Three Blind Mice". Since its opening night in London Soho, the play was running continuously (until the COVID-19 Pandemic forced the theatre to close in 2020; it reopened on 17 May 2021). It holds the world record for longest running show (of any type) of the modern era.

The plot takes place in a guest house called Monkswell Manor, run by a Mr. and Mrs. Ralston. They've only just inherited the house, close to where Mrs. Ralston grew up, and they're excited about the arrival of their very first guests. On their first night running the guest house, however, the Ralstons and their four odd lodgers are snowed in during a blizzard. The radio announces that a serial killer is on the loose — one who uses the children's song "Three Blind Mice" as a Leitmotif. And the more and more time passes, the more and more reason there is to believe that the killer may be inside Monkswell Manor. When one of the guests indeed ends up murdered, suspicion starts falling on anyone and everyone in the manor. Suffice to say, there are a ton of twists which unfold slowly over the entire course of the tale.

And that's all we're going to say. Sorry!

Richard Attenborough originated the role of Det. Sgt. Trotter. His wife, Sheila Sim, originated the role of Mollie Ralston.

For the play's 25,000th performance, the show featured a one night only cast that included Hugh Bonneville as Giles Ralston, Tamsin Grieg as Mollie Ralston, Iain Glen as Det. Sgt. Trotter, Julie Walters as Miss Boyle, and THE Patrick Stewart as Mr. Paravicini.

The film See How They Run is a murder-mystery set around the play and makes mention of a real contract clause that prohibits an actual movie adaptation from being made while the play is still running. It also avoids giving away the famous twist of the play, so feel free to watch it first.

This work features examples of:

  • Accomplice by Inaction: Molly Ralston's greatest regret is that she considers herself to have been this for the Corrigans. She was their teacher, and one of them mailed her a letter detailing how they were abused. However, Molly was sick that day and didn't read the letter until later... at which point one of the boys had died. If she had read the letter earlier, she could have intervened, which haunts her into the present.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Miss Casewell is an invention for the stage play. She's ultimately revealed to be connected to the Corrigan case in some way.
    • In the original story, it's Molly Ralston's sister who was the Corrigan children's teacher, and thus the one to fall ill and not receive the letter detailing their being abused. The play changes it to Molly herself, presumably to give her a stronger connection to the case.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Many viewers think that Christopher Wren is supposed to be gay, based on his mannerisms and finding Sgt. Trotter to be attractive (as a policeman), "terribly hearty", etc. Officially, he's not. Of additional note is that this play was written when male homosexuality was still illegal in the UKnote .
    • Similarly, Miss Casewell wears masculine clothing, has a very liberal attitude to life, is very secretive over the letters she is writing, and when someone gets hold of one such letter, they read aloud the words "Dearest Jess." While the secrecy over her letter could be for other reasons (and she could be writing to a friend or relative), it is quite possible that she was writing to a female lover (in the UK the unisex forename Jess is more often borne by females, particularly as a nickname of Jessica).
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Mrs. Boyle is such a snobbish, callous, unlikable character that few theatregoers shed tears at her death at the end of the first act.
    • The posthumous character Maureen Lyon, whose abuse of her three foster children led to one of them dying.
  • The Atoner: Several characters are trying to escape their past, and one feels sorry about something that they had done.
  • Building of Adventure: The entire play takes within Monkswell Manor. (Even more specifically, it takes place within the drawing room of Monkswell Manor, with occasional noises off indicating what is happening elsewhere in the house.)
  • The Butler Did It: A theatreland joke tells of a cab driver who, dropping his passengers off outside the theatre showing The Mousetrap and, feeling angry about not getting a tip, yells "The butler did it!" and drives off. The joke relies on you knowing that there isn't a butler in the play.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The box Giles puts in the window seat and the package Mollie puts in the desk drawer at the beginning of the show.
  • Closed Circle: By a snowstorm and cut phone lines.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The last few minutes of the play depend heavily on two significant characters who just happened to have reservations at the same country house hotel on exactly the right day. Christie herself confessed to leaving a rather gaping plot hole in the case of one of them, but that nobody had noticed.
  • Cut Phone Lines: Done by the murderer to further isolate the guesthouse from the outside world.
  • Do Not Spoil This Ending: At the end of the play, the audience is asked not to spoil the ending. No film adaptation (or any other adaptation, for that matter) is allowed to be made while the play is still running. Mass market publication of the script is not allowed in the United Kingdom either (though it has been published in other areas of the world as part of a collection of her plays). Since it's been running for 70 years as of 2022, not counting a 14-month hiatus necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it's likely no adaptation will ever see the light of day.note  As a matter of fact, TV Tropes ain't spoiling either. Got that?
    • There's a much nastier variation of the joke from The Butler Did It above; in it, the cab driver has actually seen the play, and he yells out the name of the actual culprit while driving off.
    • The USSR didn't particularly care about those nasty capitalist rules, and, therefore, produced in 1990 a pretty straightforward movie adaptation.
    • Wikipedia, naturally, notes the ending on its page about the play, much to the dismay of the present owner of the play (Christie's grandson). Amusingly, the dismay is also noted on the Wikipedia page.
    • Three Blind Mice was eventually released as a book, but its foreword proudly announced that it had been banned for decades.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: There is a reason why the tagline for the play in the brochures is "Suspect everyone." The only person (apart from Sgt. Trotter) not played up as possibly being the murderer is Mollie.
  • Faux Shadow: Virtually every character gets it at some point, always done very well.
  • The '50s: Ration books are a recent memory, the radio is the principal source of news and entertainment, and the fashions are those of the period. Berkshire has its own police force (it was merged into Thames Valley Police in 1968).
  • Foreshadowing: While there are many Red Herrings scattered throughout the play, there are some genuine hints as to the killer's identity as well; one character's reaction in particular to the announcement that the Berkshire Police are sending Sgt. Trotter to the house foreshadows some of the biggest twists in the play's denouement.
  • Fostering for Profit: It is mentioned that Posthumous Character Maureen Lyon and her husband had essentially used their three foster children as slave labour on their farm, with their ill-treatment resulting in the death of one of the children.
  • Funny Foreigner: Mr. Paravicini is generally played with a comically over the top Italian accent and mannerisms, contributing to a sense that he may not be all he claims to be.
  • Hate Sink: Mrs. Boyle serves this purpose - she is a universally disliked, unpleasable elitist old nagger.
  • Jerkass: Mrs. Boyle can get pretty mean at times, questioning Mollie's motives at running a guest house and not showing a speck of remorse for the death of the Corrigan boy. It's no wonder she gets killed at the end of act one.
  • The Lad-ette: Miss Casewell. Wears trousers and generally acts tough.
  • Lights Off, Somebody Dies: After the snowstorm takes out the lights at the end of Act 1, Mollie turns them back on to reveal that Mrs. Boyle has been strangled to death in the dark.
  • Long Runner: It has run continuously since its opening in 1952, except for a 14-month break in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is in fact the longest running theatrical production period. The play logged its 27,500th performance in September 2018.
  • Meta Guy: Paravicini frequently names conventions of the "cosy" crime fiction genre, proving to be quite Genre Savvy. These include highlighting the dangers of not knowing the guests, commenting on the convenience of the isolation of the characters, and asking Trotter not to spoil the "ending" (reveal the murderer), as the last scene/reveal is always the best scene.
  • Minimalist Cast: Due to the entire play taking place in a single room in the middle of a snowstorm. There are just eight characters: Giles and Mollie Ralston, Christopher Wren, Major Metcalf, Mrs. Boyle, Miss Casewell, Mr. Paravicini, and Sgt. Trotter.
  • My Greatest Failure: Mrs. Ralston was sent a letter by the youngest Corrigan boy detailing the horrid conditions he and his siblings were living in, but was ill when she received it and consequently didn't read it until after the boy was already dead. Unlike Mrs. Boyle, she feels horrible about her role in the events and failing to prevent the tragedy.
  • Old, Dark House: The play is set in Monkswell Manor, a sprawling manor house converted into a guesthouse.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The events of the play are set in motion by the murder of Maureen Lyon, whose abuse of the three Corrigan siblings, to whom she and her husband were foster parents, led to the death of one of them. Several characters in the play, including the killer, are revealed to be connected to the Corrigan case.
  • Posthumous Character: Maureen Lyon, whose murder is heard (but not seen) at the start of the play.
  • Red Herring: Take a shot every time there's one of these and you'll be unconscious by the end of the first act.
    • The script actually points out a deliberate Red Herring, with Mr. Paravicini appearing to be a Suspiciously Similar Substitute to Detective Poirot. But at the end of the play, we learn he is the exact opposite of Poirot.
  • Running Gag: Early in the play, when a new character arrives at the house, the description of the killer's clothes is given, usually as they take each item off.
  • Sinister Whistling: The unseen killer can be heard whistling Three Blind Mice right before the murder. The killer repeats the whistle after their identity is revealed.
  • Snowed-In: Happens shortly after all the guests have arrived. The snow is so deep that Trotter has to ski to the house.
  • Split Personality: It is hinted the killer may have a split personality as a result of a traumatic past experience. The personality of the killer is the one who underwent the trauma, while the personality they display in their cover identity was developed as a defence against said trauma.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: The killer manages to strangle Mrs. Boyle to death in about five seconds.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: The radio description of the killer is actually pretty good, except for the fact that it could potentially describe every single character in the play, which is arguably the point.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: What the characters trapped in the house suspect is going on, although it's theorized that the killer has only three targets, and one is killed prior to the play beginning, leaving only two. The second, Mrs. Boyle, is killed at the end of Act 1, and the climax is the killer confronting the third intended victim. The targets are also theorized to be the people the killer blames for the death of one of the Corrigan brothers.
  • This Is Reality: How the other characters react to Paravicini commenting on the action unfolding around them as if it was a mystery story.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole: Maureen Lyon, the first 'blind mouse'/murder victim, was an abusive foster mother to the three Corrigan children, causing the death of the youngest. The second blind mouse was Mrs. Boyle, whose Hate Sink and Jerkass trope entries speak for themselves. She was also the person who placed the Corrigan children with the Lyons, and shows no remorse about their fate. It's theorized that the murderer is one of the children that Maureen abused, getting revenge on people involved in the tragedy (Maureen's husband isn't targeted only because he died in prison), or one of the Corrigans' loved ones going after them for the same reason.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Most of the loose ends are tied up by the end of the play, but a few characters are left with their backgrounds unexplained.

By the way, the murderer is... not gonna be revealed here.

And now that you've read this page, you are an accomplice to murder. So it is in your best interest not to tell anyone outside of this wiki "who done it"!