Agatha Christie (1890-1972) made her reputation with a series of mystery novels so widely read that she is often considered the single best selling novelist in the history publishing--but from about the mid-1940s to around the end of the 1950s she had another claim to fame: she was a playwright who created one hit after another.
THE MOUSETRAP AND OTHER PLAYS does not contain all of Christie's plays, but it does contain a good chunk of them: TEN LITTLE INDIANS; APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH; THE HOLLOW; THE MOUSETRAP; WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION; TOWARDS ZERO; VERDICT; and GO BACK FOR MURDER, all of which were staged between 1943 and 1960.
The "monster" hit of Christie's career as a playwright was THE MOUSETRAP, which opened in London in 1952... and continues to play to packed houses more than fifty years later, the longest continual run in theatrical history. Based on a short story which was in turn based on a radio sketch, the play presents us with newly-married Giles and Molly, who have decided to open a guest house in rural England--only to find themselves and their guests snowed in with a killer. The play is classic Christie, presenting us with an isolated group of people and a truly jaw-dropping final twist; it is also remarkably well-written, tightly structured.
Even so, most critics tend to dismiss THE MOUSETRAP in favor Christie's second stunner: the celebrated WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, which opened in London in 1953 and proved a smash both there and in New York. The play is essentially a courtroom drama: Leonard Vole has been accused of the murder of a somewhat elderly woman and only the testimony of his wife can save him from certain conviction. But his wife, Romaine, is a unknown quantity, a mysterious woman who may have her own reasons for wanting to see Leonard hang. Can the eloquent Sir Wilson, acting for the defense, save his client from death? Like THE MOUSETRAP, the conclusion is a stunner--but with a double twist that has continued to shock and astonish audiences in its numerous revivals and the celebrate film version for well over fifty years.
There is a third "great" success in this volume, and it is TEN LITTLE INDIANS, adapted directly from the Christie novel AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Opening in London in 1943, it successfully transferred to New York and in both instances enjoyed long runs before becoming an extremely popular title in regional, community, and educational theatre, where it remains a staple to this day. The basic story is extremely well known: ten people are invited for an island getaway by an unknown host--and once cut off from the world are accused of having committed murders that the law cannot touch. They are then picked off one by one in accordance with the nursery rhyme posted above the fireplace. Read today, TEN LITTLE INDIANS is distinctly old fashioned--but that's part of the fun, and the conclusion contains a surprise twist that will amuse those who have read and enjoyed the Christie novel upon which it is based.
The remaining plays might be described as "distinctly of their time" and vary significantly in terms of quality. The two weakest titles are the 1945 APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH and the 1958 VERDICT. Based on the Christie novel of the same name, APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH lacks the focus found in most Christie works; it was not a success, opening and closing in London within a few weeks. VERDICT, which Christie wrote for the stage as an original work, was reasonably successful--and was a bit of a departure for Christie in the sense that it is more suspense than mystery. Read today, however, it has a distinctly implausible quality.
THE HOLLOW, TOWARDS ZERO, and GO BACK FOR MURDER are much stronger plays, with the latter easily the best--and certainly the most interesting in terms of staging. Based on the Christie novel THE FIVE LITTLE PIGS, this 1960 play finds a young woman determined to get to the bottom of a family scandal: her mother was convicted of her father's murder. The approach is particularly clever, introducing each character separately in the contemporary world and then sending them back in time to play out the past. THE HOLLOW, produced in 1951 and based on Christie's novel of the same name, was a significant success; TOWARDS ZERO, produced in 1956 and based on Christie's novel of the same name, was also reasonably popular. Both are distinctly Christie, but both tend to read as old fashioned in a way that is not nearly as entertaining as TEN LITTLE INDIANS.
As Ira Levin notes in his brief introduction to these seven titles, mystery plays are rare birds, and few authors produce more than a single successful play. With three major hits and many more minor ones, Christie broke the mold--and, of course, THE MOUSETRAP's success didn't so much break the mold as shatter it entirely. Strongly recommended for Christie fans, mystery fans, and play-readers everywhere.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer