When you’re a nine-year-old boy, the chances are the best present you might receive for your birthday is gun or rocket shaped.
It’s highly unlikely to come in the shape of something that can fit in an envelope. Hard cash aside. So you can forgive Mathew Prichard for being a little underwhelmed when his grandmother handed over her gift to him on the occasion of his ninth birthday.
“I’m sure I had lots of presents that seemed more important at the time, but it was the year my grandmother gave me the rights,” says Prichard. His grandmother? Agatha Christie. The rights? To The Mousetrap. A multi-million pound ninth birthday gift. “It was a few months before it launched in London, so it wouldn’t have had the same significance at the time.” Maybe not, but it certainly achieved great significance by the time Prichard had reached an age where he was able to appreciate the gift.
It is now the longest-running show in theatre history, having been seen by millions of people around the world, been translated into 50 languages and featured 403 actors in its 62 years.
It has made so much money for the estate of Christie – and heir Prichard – that the vast majority of funds from the show is now used for good causes. “It’s had a wonderful history. It’s in the midst of a wonderful tour of Great Britain, the royalties over the last ten or 12 years go to an artistic charity I set up in Wales,” he says.
Based on a short story written by Christie, The Mousetrap left its home in the West End for the first time in over half a century last year and is in Leeds this week. It turns out it is a homecoming of sorts for the show. “I can proudly tell you that I have a very precious Visitors’ Book in my office (under lock and key) that dates back to 1945,” says Ian Sime, General Manager at The Grand Theatre. “We encourage all cast members of visiting companies to sign it and right there in 1952 is Richard Attenborough – no ‘Sir’ then – and Sheila Sim. It’s wonderful to be able to welcome the production back 62 years on.”
So what is it like to be the grandson of the woman who created such magic with her work? “I called her Nima,” he says. “I hardly ever remember talking to her about work outside the occasional word about books or plays. I was the only grandchild, my mother was an only child. I remember spending summer holidays down in Greenway, her holiday home in Devon, now owned by the National Trust, we were just a small, tightly knit family.
“It might sound boring, but it’s a compliment to say that she was a very traditional grandmother. She took an interest in who your friends were, where they went to school, your hobbies, all that sort of thing and more. Only in brackets was she a great and famous author.”
The question has to be asked, how did ‘Nima’ feel about having created something that, even at the time, she must have known would last a lifetime?
“I suppose it was one of her favourites,” he says.
“I suppose she was proudest of the fact that she had created something that was huge entertainment for a wide and varied audience which is probably one of the reasons it’s lasted so long. She created something that was hugely enjoyable for the whole family.”
The Mousetrap is at Leeds Grand Theatre, until August 30. Tickets on 0844 848 2700.
Since The Mousetrap opened, 419 actors and 243 understudies have appeared in the play. In November 2012 Mathew Prichard welcomed the audience to the Diamond Jubilee celebratory evening, which was also the 25,000th performance of the play.
All of the proceeds from the night were donated to Mousetrap Theatre Projects, the leading theatre education charity seed-funded by the play.
The Mousetrap has four entries in the Guinness Book of Records, including: for the ‘longest continuous run of any show in the world’; ‘most durable’ actor and ‘longest serving understudy’.