“The Mousetrap” is a staple of theaters across the world. It opened its run at the West End Theater in London in 1959 and is still going. It was one of the inaugural shows of the Richmond Community Theater in the late 1970s.
Agatha Christie is the grande dame of what’s known as the “Golden Age” of the murder mystery genre — the 1920s and ’30s. By her death in 1975, Christie had published 66 detective novels — including the best-selling murder mystery of all time, “And Then There Was None” — and 14 short stories. Her work has over 30 movie adaptations, including “A Haunting in Venice,” which debuts in theaters this month and draws from the 1969 Christie novel, “Hallowe’en Party.”
“Venice” will mark the third time Kenneth Branagh has reprised his role as Agatha’s most famous detective, Hercule Poirot.
You know the diminutive Hercule and his signature mustache he supposedly grew to cover disfigurement incurred in the war. He’s the man who won’t let anyone leave the room, the train, or the premises until he discovers why someone is dead and who killed them. Branagh is brilliant as the punctual, obsessive-compulsive genius who operates with “order and method.” Also brilliant is Branagh’s handlebar stache. It deserves a zip code.
You can see Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hercule in 2022’s “Death on the Nile” and 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” Orient Express has a particularly stacked cast, including Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, and Johnny Depp.
“The Mousetrap” is one of the 20 plays Agatha wrote throughout her life. Titled “Three Blind Mice,” she conceived a 20-minute radio drama at the request of the queen of England for her birthday celebration. Agatha based the tale on a 1945 news story about two brothers abused in foster care, one of whom died. It evolved into a two-act play.
At Agatha’s request, “The Mousetrap” has not officially adapted to film. She forbade it until the play ended its stage run, which it has yet to do. The 1974 West End performance of the show was where Agatha Christie made her last public appearance. “The Mousetrap” was performed on the Richmond Community Theater stage November 10, 1977.
Original Richmond Community Theater Cast
Director: David Ariail
Gladys Howell – Mollie Ralston
James B. Parsons – Giles Ralston
Michael E. Young – Christopher Wren
Lina Flynt Bauersfield – Mrs. Boyle
E. P Stover – Major Metcalf
Claudia Dwight – Miss Casewell
Robin Stogner – Mr. Paravicini
Daniel E. Hale – Detective Trotter
David Ariail directed the ’77 performance. He was instrumental in making what was then known as “The Strand” theater into RCT.
“It said for more information (on the building) call this number,” says David. On the other end of the line was Ira Meiselman, part of the Eastern Federal Corporation and theater chain. Dave asked him how he would feel about donating the building and using it as a tax write-off. Meiselman said he needed to consult his staff. “Sure enough, says Dave, “he called back and told me, ‘My accountant said that would be great. I’d be glad to get rid of it.'”
David then went before the Rockingham City Council in 1976 and asked them to accept the building “for use as a community theater.” Rockingham agreed to pay the insurance and utilities while Dave investigated ways to renovate the structure.
“Then everyone was on board with it,” says David, Charlotte had a front page (news) story… That’s when the fund drives began. The building was in bad shape…What we had was a shell, but it was a start.”
“The Mousetrap” was David’s second show at RCT. Most folks embraced the new theater and turned out for the auditions and the shows. I dare say David preferred to work with members of the community as opposed to trained actors. Lina Flint Bauersfield, a respected teacher in Hamlet, auditioned and landed the role of Mrs. Boyle. Not one member of the original cast was an “actor.”
“It was more fun and more creative,” says David.
RCT will perform “The Mousetrap” anew on Oct. 20, 2023. The show is the Richmond directorial debut of Katie Ashlyn Collins and is produced by Jay and Jyodi Patel of Rockingham. Jay saw a London performance years ago and wanted his wife to experience it. Of course, the story has a spectacular plot twist. There’s always a twist in an Agatha whodunit. You can probably stream 30 of Ms. Christie’s works at your leisure, but you can see this one only as a live performance on stage.
I’ll be there every night. It’s one thing to write a murder mystery; it’s quite another to be in one, especially one of Agatha’s.
2023 Richmond Community Theater Cast
Director: Katie Ashlyn Collins
Melita Ingram – Mollie Ralston
Orin Nelson – Giles Ralston
Noah L. Smith – Christopher Wren
Beth Taylor – Mrs. Boyle
Gavin W. Applewhite – Major Metcalf
Anjali Patel – Miss Casewell
Sean Patrick Smith – Mr. Paravicini
Savannah Hooks – Detective Trotter
Oct. 20-22 and Oct.-27-29
Sean Patrick Smith is a freelance columnist and author of “Three Miles of Eden,” a murder mystery set in Seven Lakes, in which Richmond County makes multiple appearances.