St Martin’s Theatre holds the distinction of carrying a show that is now the longest running play in the world, but it has a history that goes back even further, extending backwards to its original opening in 1916. It means that it has remained in the capital – at its location on West Street in Camden – for almost a century and in between its premiere show and its continued service in the modern day it has housed a number of productions and welcomed many different visitors and performers through its doors. It means that it is now one of many venues that is of historical value to the West End, symbolised by its granting of a Grade II listed status in 1973.
Like many other venues in to appear in the capital in the early years of the 20th century, St Martin’s Theatre was designed by the famous architect W G R Sprague, who was also hard at work designing what was planned as the theatre’s sister venue the Ambassador’s Theatre. Throughout the capital, Sprague had also provided London with venues such as the Aldwych Theatre, the Gielgud Theatre, the Lyceum and more. But with St Martin’s he would be constructing a show that would one day house a high profile production for many decades.
But there was more to St Martin’s even before “The Mousetrap” made its way to its stage. It was originally planned as a venue to accompany the Ambassador’s – even at opening – but thanks to the outbreak of the First World War, the venue would have to wait for its own grand opening, with audiences first getting a glimpse of the inside of the newest London theatre in 1916. Since then it has housed many plays, with Bertie Meyer in charge of St Martin’s in its early years until 1967.
But Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” remains its best known claim to fame in the modern day, having first appeared at St Martin’s Theatre in 1974 and remaining ever since. The show had already completed more than two decades of its run at the sister Ambassador’s Theatre, but would spend the majority of its history at the West Street location. It means that today it has been there for almost forty years and clocked up an impressive number of performances, making it the longest-running show in the world.
Of course “The Mousetrap” is the most famous production to appear upon the stage of St Martin’s Theatre, but it did not appear on its stage until 1974, leaving 58 years in which the venue hosted an array of different productions. The first of these would take the form of “Houp La!” by Fred Thompson, with the well known performer Gertie Millar appearing on the stage of St Martin’s Theatre. The actress had appeared in a wealth of London shows at the time, but the comedy “Houp La!” would not provide her with the same success that previous shows had done, with the tastes of the public changing thanks to the First World War.
A high profile show would go on to appear at the venue in 1923 in the form of “R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots)”, the science fiction play that brought the word ‘robot’ to the attention of audiences and added it to the lexicon. The Czech show had originally had its premiere in Prague and had appeared in New York the previous year, but would make its UK debut at St Martin’s Theatre with Basil Rathbone in a lead role. It would go on to be adapted for the screen on BBC television.
Later in the century, the venue would welcome “Penny Plain” to its stage, with the actress Joyce Grenfall in a leading role. The performer had previously appeared in various films and had worked for the BBC, before taking to the stage in the 1951 production alongside fellow actors Max Adrian and Elisabeth Welch, the latter of whom had appeared alongside Paul Robeson in various movies.
Then, twenty years later, “The Mousetrap” arrived, having already started its run at the Ambassador’s Theatre. So having clocked up two decades already, it would go on to accumulate more than thirty more years at the venue, with its forth decade closing in fast. Penned by the famous crime novelist Agatha Christie, it features all of the hallmarks of her classic work, including a large converted manor house and a murder mystery.
It is set in the English countryside where a cold spell has brought a number of visitors to a Mansion-come-hotel. But with a murder in the area, the local policeman braves the weather and arrives at the hotel with the news, determined to discover which of the new guests has committed the terrible crime.
Further Facts about St. Martin’s Theatre
• To keep “The Mousetrap” fresh after all of these years, visitors are asked to keep the ending a secret so that other guests might revel in the twists and turns. The cast and sets are also regularly revamped, allowing audiences to re-visit the show down the line for a new experience.
• As of 2010, “The Mousetrap” has remained in London for 58 years.
|Monday, 27 Feb, 2017||St. Martin's Theatre, London||The Mousetrap|
|Tuesday, 28 Feb, 2017||St. Martin's Theatre, London||The Mousetrap|
|Wednesday, 01 Mar, 2017||St. Martin's Theatre, London||The Mousetrap|
|Thursday, 02 Mar, 2017||St. Martin's Theatre, London||The Mousetrap|
|Friday, 03 Mar, 2017||St. Martin's Theatre, London||The Mousetrap|
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