The Mousetrap opened at the Theatre Royal Nottingham in October 1952 and reached London’s West End a month later where it has run continuously ever since which means Agatha Christie’s great play has been entertaining audiences from around the world for as long as the Queen has been on the throne
You might imagine that means there can’t be many people who haven’t seen it. Not so. Gwyneth Strong, who heads the cast of the touring version which comes to the Lyceum next week, for one.
“I must be one of the few people who hadn’t seen it or read it and hadn’t even had a friend in it,”she says. “ I hadn’t realised it had been on that long, to be honest.
“I didn’t know what to make of it when my agent first sent it to me and I started reading it. I became so immersed in it I forgot I was supposed to ring someone back. I was sucked right in. It’s amazing. It was still happening to me in rehearsals when the story was just unfolding and my character is supposed to be listening and I end up listening too much and I have to bring myself back in and remember to say my lines.”
The actor, fondly remembered as Cassandra in the BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses is playing Mrs Boyle, one of the residents in a country guest house cut off by snow who come to realise there is a murderer in their midst.
“Mrs Boyle is a really bad-mooded lady and it is fun to play that quality, I must say. She is cantankerous and opinionated and full-on,” she affirms.
We associate her with roles that are a bit more sunny and easy going. “Yes, certainly that’s true of the role I am best known for,” she agrees, “but in the theatre I have played a lot of different roles but I have never played anyone quite like this before and also Agatha Christie which is another genre in itself.
“That’s quite a challenge which I am so far enjoying. It’s very interesting.. It’s a particular period and a particular genre and if you haven’t done it before it’s a good experience to do it and I didn’t want to let that opportunity go.
“When I did finally go and see it in the West End before I started rehearsals I was very struck by the atmosphere in the audience who were lovely and excited and almost the experience of being part of something that was unique which was really lovely. I hadn’t expected that.
“They have only done one other tour and it did extremely well so this is an opportunity for people to see it without having to come into the West End.”
Gwyneth Strong was previously at the Lyceum in the Madness musical, Our House. “That brings back happy memories. It was the last time I toured apart from a little thing called Monkey Bars at the Unicorn which went to Edinburgh. ”
Only Fools and Horses brought her mainstream recognition, appearing between 1989 and 2003. In 2016 she joined EastEnders in the role of Geraldine Clough.
She is signed up for The Mousetrap until July and after that? “ I think that’s the beauty of this business,” she responds. “You don’t know what’s coming, I didn’t know this was coming until it landed on my doorstep. Some people might not like not knowing but since I have been acting since 10 years old it’s the only way I know. I like the excitement of not having my life mapped out for me.”
The Mousetrap is at the Sheffield Lyceum from Monday to Saturday, February 11-16.