A Brief History of Agatha Christie and the Stage

As boldly stated in the introduction to Julius Green’s book, Agatha Christie: A Life in Theatre, Agatha Christie is the ‘most successful female playwright of all time. She also wrote some books.’ Agatha Christie started life a fan of the theatre, went on to become an incredibly successful name in theatre, and has left a legacy recognised and appreciated in the theatre world around the globe to this day.

“One of the great joys in life was the local theatre. We were all lovers of the theatre in my family.” An Autobiography

Christie was introduced to the theatre world as a youngster, frequently attending weekly performances with her sister Madge and brother Monty throughout her childhood. As well as enjoying watching theatre, she acted in plays put on by family friends The Mallocks at Cockington Court in her hometown, Torquay. Christie’s first efforts at playwriting date back to 1908; 8 years prior to writing her first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

Black Coffee, Christie’s first published play, was released in 1930 following her disappointment in the portrayal of Hercule Poirot in Michael Morton’s stage adaptation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Alibi. The play is noteworthy for two reasons: it was the first Christie play to land in London’s West End and it was her only full length stage play to feature her famous sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Black Coffee was the beginning of Christie’s long career as a playwright going on to write over 20 stage plays.

Agatha Christie has broken two records in the theatre world. The first is for the longest running play with The Mousetrap, which opened in London’s West End in 1952 and has been running continuously since. Even when the play moved from The Ambassadors Theatre to St. Martins Theatre in 1974, it did so without missing a single performance! Her second record is for being the first female playwright to have three plays running simultaneously in London’s West End. Along with The Mousetrap the plays included were Witness for the Prosecution and Spider’s Web.

In An Autobiography Christie reflects on the opening night of Witness for the Prosecution in London, describing it as ‘the only first night I have enjoyed.’ Describing her feelings on that evening Christie said, ‘I was happy, radiantly happy, and made even more so by the applause of the audience.’

Christie’s plays reached beyond London’s West End and onto Broadway in the early years of her theatre career. In 2012, a memorial was erected in the heart of London’s Theatreland to mark Christie’s contribution to theatre. It was unveiled on the 25th November 2012 to coincide with the 60th anniversary of The Mousetrap. Designed by sculptor Ben Twiston-Davies, the memorial depicts a book with a bust of Christie at the centre. The sculpture features images of some of her greatest creations, spines of a selection of stories, and includes information about her life and work. You can find the memorial on the intersection of Cranbourn Street and Great Newport Street; a location chosen because historically eight theatres in the area have shown her work, or plays based on her work.

Throughout her lifetime, Agatha Christie wrote more than 20 stage plays; many of which are performed around the globe on an ongoing basis.

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