The Mousetrap has, after sixty years in the West End, gone on what its producers are billing its “first ever UK tour.” That ignores entirely the history of the play which, before it ever reached the West End, was premiered at Nottingham Theatre Royal, then played six further regional dates (Oxford, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds and Birmingham) on a pre-West End tour, before arriving at the Ambassadors.
I caught the first matinee of the tour earlier this week at Canterbury’s new Marlowe Theatre, which was almost entirely rebuilt on the same site that a theatre of that name has occupied in a former 1930s Odeon Cinema since 1984 and which re-opened in a brand-new building last year.
No such internal or external refurbishments, however, have happened to the venerable warhorse of The Mousetrap, which — after it was originally revealed that this production would be directed by Angus Jackson — saw it merely put a new version of the West End original back onstage, directed by Ian Watt Smith, who directed the 58th and 59th years in London. Anthony Holland’s 1965 set has also been replicated, and even one London cast member is back: Jan Waters, who first played Mrs Boyle in 2001 and has played her three times in the West End since.
I saw it on my birthday on Wednesday, which happened to be my 50th, and I now feel like I’m rapidly closing the gap with The Mousetrap, which when I first saw it in the early 80s had only been running for around 30 years, when I was only twenty myself. How time flies!
There’s an interesting souvenir book, available at the St Martin’s Theatre and on the road, for the 60th anniversary that lists every cast that has ever done it, year by year, complete with major events that happened in that year. For 1962, when the show was in its 10th year and I was born, the programme tells me that trolleybuses ran for the last time in London, and the Hyde Park Corner underpass opened!
But it’s also striking, looking back across those last 60 years, how much work The Mousetrap has provided for jobbing actors — but also how few of them have sadly gone on to, or come down from, greater glory. There was, of course, the original Sergeant Trotter, Richard Attenborough, and Sheila Sim, whom he had married seven years earlier, as Mollie Ralston. But the biggest stars since have been Stephanie Cole (Miss Casewell in 1969), Chili Bouchier (Mrs Boyle in 1972), and Peter Penry-Jones (Rupert’s dad, who was Giles Ralston in 1979).
I remember going to see the show in 1991 when the late Pamela Lane (a former Mrs John Osborne, whose relationship apparently provided the basis of Look Back in Anger, when — according to her Wikipedia entry — they lived in “cramped accommodation in Derby while she cuckolded him with a local dentist”) and former West End starlet Cheryl Kennedy were in the cast.
London’s Time Out magazine is, like a lot of media outlets, facing massive challenges: the information that it once bundled for us so expertly within the pages of one handy magazine is now so freely available elsewhere online that magazine sales have slumped. So now it is relaunching soon as a give-away publication, like Metro and the Standard, and will earn its money, it hopes, from greatly expanded advertising reach.
But it is also diversifying, too; and as The Stage’s Alistair Smith recently pointed out, is now not just letting us know about events but also actively (co)producing them. Time Out Live, the company’s events arm, recently collaborated on bringing Penny Arcade’s Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! back to London, twenty years after it was first seen there.
As Alistair noticed, the show “was recommended in not one, but two of Time Out’s Critics’ Choice lists.” And he says, “reading the Critics’ Choice lists - which, remember, are what Time Out’s independent critics recommend above all other shows that the magazine’s readers spend their money on - there is absolutely no mention” of the fact that Time Out was a co-producer of it, and failed to declare its interest, which as he put it, might read as: “We have a vested financial interest in you buying tickets to this show, for which we are a producer.”
That isn’t to say that the section editors who recommended it so avidly — the gay and cabaret listings — were themselves doing something in bad faith. Actually, I saw (and loved) the show twice, and came to know Penny when I conducted a series of live public interviews with her at the ICA, Soho Theatre and Foyles bookshop; the show deserved the endorsements that the section editors gave it.
But it also deserved a full review in the theatre section — which it didn’t get, either, for exactly the reason that it would have been compromising for Time Out to be reviewing its own shows. So the show actually lost out.
As Lyn Gardner noted in a recent Guardian blog responding and amplifying to Alistair’s piece:
Media organisations, including the Guardian, often act as media partners or sponsors for arts events and festivals, but such sponsorship does not (and never should) impinge on editorial coverage. It may be that somebody at Guardian towers rolls their eyes when I deliver a less than glowing review for a show in a festival to which the organisation has put its name, but if they do, I’ve never heard about it and would resist any pressure to review positively in such circumstances.
But sponsorship is different from investment because the investor is looking for a financial return.
And she notes the debate ignited by Alistair is
…a reminder at a time when media organisations are under pressure to diversify and make ends meet, how easily critical independence can - or at least appear - to be squandered in the rush for profit.
Quote of the week: Lyn Gardner writes her own blog, of course, as I’ve already quoted from today, so perhaps she doesn’t need to be all over mine! But her review this week of the latest dud F Scott Fitzgerald show to arrive in London (after the previous dire musical version of The Great Gatsby at the King’s Head) is a classic. Writing of Save Me at the Union Theatre, she writes:
I am constantly cheered by the high production values and talent to be seen on the London fringe, so it’s rare — and disappointing — to come across a production that lacks even basic competence in so many areas.
…it lacks tension, is erratically paced and has unnecessary video interludes, and the scene-changes seem to last longer than the Fitzerald marriage… Save us all.