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Agatha Christie Plays

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  • Wyatt James
    Agatha Christie Plays The Mousetrap and Other Plays ( Dodd, Mead, 1978; Bantam Books, 1981) Introduction by Ira Levin A collection of eight plays, which are
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 17, 2003
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      Agatha Christie Plays
      "The Mousetrap and Other Plays" ( Dodd, Mead, 1978; Bantam Books,
      Introduction by Ira Levin

      A collection of eight plays, which are notable as it is very rare for
      a professional mystery writer to write for the stage, either with
      original plots or adaptations of novels. They were all very popular
      (especially 'The Mousetrap' -- which is in fact rather bad, but
      played for years and years!), although not as much as movie and
      television adaptations by other authors of Christie's works. Of the
      latter, only a few are really good -- for example,'Witness for the
      Prosecution' and 'Murder on the Orient Express' in the cinema, and the
      Joan Hickson Miss Marples and David Suchet Hercule Poirots on TV.

      What is interesting about the plays, as Ira Levin points out, is that
      Christie realized that traditional mystery stories do not transfer
      well into the medium of live drama -- much too complicated and
      cerebral unless drastically simplified, even to the extent of dropping
      the traditional detective. Hence three plays are based on Poirot
      novels, and he is eliminated from all of them, because 'deduction'
      and clues are pretty much irrelevant to dramatic suspense and slow
      down the action -- just observe how ineffective Hollywood versions of
      Philo Vance and Ellery Queen, for example, are when they end
      up with a 20-minute explication of how the detective solved the

      Another point he makes is: 'Don't worry too much about the chairs and
      tables. It rarely matters whether they're at stage right or stage
      left, or whether the doors are upstage or down. What does matter is
      the dialogue.' I agree entirely; while stage directions are
      important for the production, they are very distracting in the print
      medium (and in fact make little sense to me, as I am ignorant as to
      whether stage right is to the right of the audience or of the actors
      facing forward, and there is too much 'crosses down L.' -- I much
      prefer Shakespeare's simplified directions such as 'exit, pursued by

      The plays, from worst to best (in my own opinion): (1) 'Verdict'
      (original play, not based on a story or novel) has an illogical plot
      and an extremely naive protagonist who does not deserve being treated
      as well as he is; (2) 'Appointment with Death' has a really nasty
      victim, with milksopish grown children under her thumb, and deserves
      what's coming to her -- but it turns out not quite to be a murder
      after all: a cop-out; (3)'The Mousetrap' has an easily spotted
      gimmick, and the killer is a competent person one moment and a raving
      madman the next -- coincidences are egregious, not convincing;
      and (4) 'Go Back for Murder' is one of those rehashes of an 'ancient'
      murder, and again the solution is illogical. Those are the relatively
      disappointing ones.

      (5) 'The Hollow' has a nice surprise ending and some very effective
      characters, and the sexual theme is very well handled; (6) 'Towards
      Zero', takes place in a typical A.C. country house, on a Cornish bay,
      with a cast of several houseguests at odds with each other, all of
      whom are quite interesting and distinctive -- good mystery; (7) 'Ten
      Little Indians', based on the famous mystery novel 'And Then There
      Were None', is in many ways better than the book, in any case, far
      more concise in following the classic 17th Century French
      dramatic 'unities' (all taking place in one room during a 48-hour
      period) and sticking with the common mystery thread of a small group
      of people stranded in an isolated house with a mass murderer; and
      (8) 'Witness for the Prosecution', undoubtedly Christie's masterpiece
      for the stage, the play is dominated by Romaine, the German wife
      of the defendant Leonard Vole (wonderful Dickensian name) who is on
      trial for murder -- a role brilliantly acted on screen by Marlene
      Dietrich -- one cannot praise this story enough.

      PS. The murderer at the premiere of 'The Mousetrap' in 1952 was
      played by an unknown young actor named Richard Attenborough.
      Attenborough also played the movie role of Christie the mass murderer
      in '10 Rillington Place' -- quite a coincidence, eh?

      Grobius, Sept 2003
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