Sarah Whitlock on the universal appeal of Agatha Christie’s 'The Mousetrap'
The Mousetrap actress shares how, decades after her first performance, starring in the long-running Agatha Christie murder mystery continues to feel special.
“I knew that The Mousetrap existed as a young girl, but I never thought I’d be a part of it,” said Sarah Whitlock. Now, decades after her first performance in the Agatha Christie play, the timeless whodunnit continues to shape her acting career.
Her Mousetrap journey started in 1986, cast as the understudy for Mollie Ralston and Miss Casewell. Over three decades, she's played all the female roles on multiple occasions, appeared in the play across Asia, and taken part in numerous West End casts — notably, she's a part of the show's 70th anniversary company.
With over 29,000 performances, how does the show continue to enthrall audiences at St. Martin's Theatre?. We sat down with The Mousetrap veteran Sarah Whitlock about her family connection to the show, as well as her international experiences with the Agatha Christie drama.
The Mousetrap is at St. Martin’s Theatre.
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What did you know about Agatha Christie and The Mousetrap before joining?
Well, I knew that she wrote thrillers. My mother had a great friend who was a stage manager on The Mousetrap at the Ambassadors Theatre, where it started. I never saw it, though. I don’t think my parents ever said, “Let’s go and see The Mousetrap.” I knew that it existed, but as a young girl going to drama school, I never thought I’d be a part of this.
When was your first performance in The Mousetrap?
I joined the company as an assistant stage manager (ASM) and understudied Mollie Ralston and Miss Casewell in 1986. So, there was a time that I went on, but the only thing I remember was just the specialness of it, actually, in a strange way. I was obviously nervous. But you’re involved in something that was pretty terrific — the longevity of it was sort of there already.
[The Mousetrap] is such a well oiled machine now that everybody just takes on their roles and gets on with it. At the time, I thought, “I’ve learned the ASM side, and now I’m on stage as an actress.” So that’s pretty cool.
What makes you come back to The Mousetrap?
It’s an incredible play. Agatha Christie wrote something which obviously wouldn't be running this long unless it was it had something special about it. But who wouldn't come back? You know, it's a lovely job for people. Any actor will love it because it's a source of security for certainly a length of time. Okay, it's quite hard work. But as actors, it's short lived. You’ve just got to get on with it, a bit like being a footballer.
You’ve also starred in international productions of The Mousetrap. Is there a difference in performing in the West End and performing the same show in other countries?
I’ve been in The Mousetrap in India, Bangkok [Thailand], Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur [Malaysia]. Bangkok was interesting because above the stage, they had a language thing ticking along. We had to slow down a little because the laughs came after. But the audience were looking at the words before looking at the stage.
Doing it in India was just something really beyond belief. Even all that way away, they still grasped it with those hands and made us terribly welcome and they obviously put the show up on a pedestal. It’s such a period piece now, and I think that translates around the world. People love a period piece with the old-fashioned phone and the 1950s set. If you come to see The Mousetrap, you think it’s a little production. But it holds its quaintness and charm.
You also took part in the 70th anniversary performance last year. How was that experience?
Everybody was very heightened with the specialness and realising that this was a huge thing. Seventy years, I mean, even the youngsters rose to the occasion because they realised this was something that is probably not to be repeated. I mean, you go on from there, I suppose. The 80th might be interesting, but I don’t know how I feel about that...
How does The Mousetrap set itself apart from other murder mysteries?
Well, she's written a very clever play. All the characters are very defined, but they all have a common bonding, I suppose, which is clever. In the end, when things start to evolve, they all play such a big part.
And as I said, it’s a period piece. It's got a lovely charm to it. There's lots of laughs which people forget, and she's just been really clever with it. I mean, it would be awful to change it, really. And the final thing is because the audience have to keep a secret. Oh, yes. That's very special.
Photo credit: Sarah Whitlock in The Mousetrap (Photo courtesy of production)
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