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Christie's 'Mousetrap' marks 50 years

Agatha Christie celebrating the 21st birthday of "The Mousetrap."

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start quoteIt is like a London institution -- like the ravens in the Tower of London.end quote
-- Richard Attenborough

LONDON, England -- Queen Elizabeth II and "The Mousetrap" got together for a double celebration -- both have enjoyed half a century at the top in Britain.

In her Golden Jubilee year, the British monarch was at the theatre on Monday to see the Agatha Christie whodunit as it marked its 50th anniversary with its 20,807th performance and the title of the world's longest-running play.

"The Mousetrap" ranks alongside Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace as one of Britain's must-see tourist attractions and it shows no signs of running out of steam.

"I don't see why it should ever come off," said producer Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen.

Oscar-winning director Richard Attenborough, who was in the original production, agrees: "It is like a London institution -- like the ravens in the Tower of London.

"You must view the play as a classical piece of theatre. That is why it has run so long."

And for the queen, it offered a chance to celebrate another great British icon after her attendance last week at the world premiere of the latest James Bond movie marked the 40th anniversary of the world's most famous secret agent. (Full story)

Buckingham Palace said before the show it believed the monarch was seeing the murder play for the first time. "She doesn't know whodunit," a spokeswoman said. "So yes, she's looking forward to seeing it."

"The Mousetrap" was originally called "Three Blind Mice" and was written by Agatha Christie in 1947 as a 30-minute radio play to celebrate the then Queen Mary's 80th birthday.

It took to the London stage the year that Queen Elizabeth II took to the throne. Both have survived a rollercoaster half century since then.

Fashions have changed but they have both survived. The play has been seen by over 10 million people and performed in 44 different countries.

"The Mousetrap" has three different entries in the Guinness Book of World Records:

• It is the longest-running theatrical show in the world.

• It boasts the world's most durable actor -- David Raven played the role of Major Metcalfe for 4,575 performances.

• Nancy Seabrooke can lay claim to being the world's longest-serving understudy for 6,240 performances over 15 years. She would sit patiently out in the wings doing embroidery and crochet.

One item still remains from the 1952 set -- the clock on the mantelpiece. The revolver from the original production is now in London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Christie, one of the world's greatest thriller writers, gave the stage rights to her grandson Mathew Prichard on his ninth birthday.

Still sworn to secrecy on who the killer is, he said: "The enjoyment of the audience watching it is transparent. I saw it once with a group of Japanese and they had a great time and hissed the killer at the end."

The play has rewarded its original investors 1,000 times over but not everyone has been so lucky.

Two British producers bought the film rights for 5,000 (7,900 euros) on condition that they could not make the movie until six months after the theatre production closed. The play has long since outlived them.

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