Agatha Christie is reason for Mousetrap’s 70 years
Jewish Telegraph, November 2022
THE Mousetrap celebrates the 70th anniversary today of its first performance in London.
And producer Adam Spiegel knows exactly the secret to its success: Agatha Christie.
“She’s a towering figure in literature,” Adam told me. “And she writes absolutely compelling narratives.
“We tend to slightly underestimate and under-celebrate Agatha Christie in this country. If she had been a national of almost any other country, there would be a statue of her in the main square of every town.
“But, somehow, we in the UK don’t like that sort of celebration. She sold somewhere between two and four billion books in English and dozens of other languages. Hers is a towering legacy. And The Mousetrap is a reasonably sized chunk of it.”
The Mousetrap — which will make its Broadway premiere next year — had its world premiere at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, on October 6, 1952.
It went on a UK tour before starting its run at the Ambassadors Theatre, London, on November 25, 1952.
It transferred to the larger St Martin’s Theatre in March 1974 — where it is still staged today.
In 1997, at the initiative of then-producer Stephen Waley-Cohen, the theatrical education charity Mousetrap Theatre Projects was launched, helping young people experience London’s theatre.
In the UK, only one production of the play, in addition to the West End production, can be performed annually, while no film adaptation can be produced until the West End production has been closed for at least six months.
Adam Spiegel Productions took over The Mousetrap in March, 2018.
Norfolk-based Adam told me: “It should have been a no brainer, but I still spent a bit of time thinking about it.
“But I now feel a bit foolish for having spent that time thinking about it. I’m very pleased to have done it.”
He added: “People enjoy seeing a window into a slightly different era. When the play was first put on in 1952, it was only seven years after the war.
“One is reluctant to romanticise it, because it was really tough after the war, but people enjoy the period nature of it in the same way that, when they watch Poirot on television, they don’t want that stuck in the 2000s.”
Adam went by the mantra “it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it”, so the only changes he made were putting “a great deal more energy into the marketing of the show” and “we’ve made significant improvements to the casting process”.
The week before I spoke to Adam, The Mousetrap — which is also touring the UK — had had its best ever week in 70 years, “both in terms of revenue and in terms of capacity. So that’s pretty astonishing after 70 years”.
The play was the first to reopen in the West End after the Covid pandemic.
“That was a very big moment and it was covered by TV stations all over the world,” he said. “And that was a really important piece of symbolism for The Mousetrap to be front and centre at the heart of London theatre. I was very proud of the way the play emerged from Covid.”
When Covid hit in March, 2020, Adam’s production of Hairspray was in rehearsal, while he had another four or five shows that had to shut.
“For the first six months, there was nothing we could do,” he said. “Like everyone else, we were watching Matt Hancock or Boris Johnson at the daily briefings hoping that we might get just a tiny sliver of good news.
“But I was determined that The Mousetrap would be the first thing to reopen the West End.
“And then we somehow also got Hairspray up and running, which was a fairly astonishing feat.”
One of the main talking points about The Mousetrap is how the identity of the killer is kept a secret.
“If you want to find out who the murderer is, you can do it,” Adam told me. “The truth is, people don’t really want to, because why would they want to spoil something?
“The whole charm of going to The Mousetrap, it’s not just a whodunnit, it’s an Agatha Christie play. Generally speaking, people have honoured the request at the end of the show to keep it a secret.”
Most plays keep their cast for a year, but Adam revealed that The Mousetrap freshens up every six months.
“I ran into a cast member as the cast was about to change and his attitude was that six months had been perfect,” he said.
Adam is a regular visitor to Israel — a country close to his family’s heart.
His father — Oscar-winning film producer Sam Spiegel — has a school named after him in Jerusalem.
Adam visited the Sam Spiegel Film and Television school last month as part of the celebrations for its move “into a spanking new premises in the middle of Jerusalem, which is magnificent”.
He added: The graduates essentially constitute a large chunk of the Israeli film and television industry.
“It’s a terrific school. And it’s consistently included in the top 10 film schools in the world, which, for an organisation that was only born 33 years ago, is fairly astonishing.”
Adam recalled how his father was good friends with “the late great mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek”.
Adam, who also worked on a kibbutz after his O-level exams, is involved with co-existence projects in Israel and donated his father’s art collection to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
“I’m aware that it’s a significant part of my cultural identity,” the father-of-three said.
What does Adam look for in a new show?
“There’s a million answers to that, really,” he replied. “But it’s about finding compelling stories that are going to work most effectively in a theatre rather than in any other medium.
“I love musicals and that’s the bulk of the work that I’ve done over the last 20-odd years because nothing quite beats the experience of that kind of razzmatazz and electricity that is generated by musical theatre.
“When you get that, it’s like gold dust. And standing at the back of an auditorium, watching the finale of a big musical and watching the audience leap to their feet as one, that feels like a drug.
“And I’m very lucky that I’ve had those experiences on a few occasions, and I love it. So you’re always in search of that.”
Adam — who shares his name with film director Spike Jonze (“I don’t know why he had a problem with the name,” Adam joked) — has various productions in development.
He added: “I can’t really talk about them. I’m quite happy at the moment just focusing on The Mousetrap, both in London and on tour and productions that are taking place around the world.
“Although Covid is behind us — or appears to be — it will take a little bit of time before the whole industry is able to restabilise after it and so I’m definitely taking a cautious approach in terms of doing the work at the moment.”