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Queen shares golden stage with Mousetrap

London, Nov. 26 (Reuters): Two venerable institutions yesterday celebrated 50 years of taking centre stage in Britain as Queen Elizabeth went to see the classic whodunnit The Mousetrap.

The world’s longest-running play, which ranks alongside Buckingham Palace as one of London’s top tourist attractions, was first performed in the year she took to the throne. Half-a-century later, both marked their Golden Jubilee in style.

Oscar-winning director Richard Attenborough, who was in the original production, stepped up after the gala performance to plead with the audience in time-honoured tradition not to give away the name of the killer.

Asked to explain the play’s longevity Attenborough told Reuters before the historic performance: “It lasted so long because it is a bloody good play. Agatha Christie is very, very clever indeed.”

For Queen Elizabeth, it was her first trip to the Christie classic that has now been seen by over 10 million people.

She came on stage afterwards to congratulate the cast on the play which has been staged in 44 countries in 24 different languages.

She exited the stage with a cheery wave and was greeted with tumultuous applause.

The play may be mocked by critics as a stage anachronism but it survived the dramatic box office dip that other shows suffered after last year’s September 11 attacks ravaged world tourism.

“It is doing very well. We are keeping it on as long as people come to see it.” said David Turner, who has directed the play for the last 15 years and yesterday proudly watched over performance number 20,807.

“I don’t see it closing at all at the moment. Over the year we are about 75 percent full. I am thrilled to be part of theatre history,” he told Reuters on the play’s 50th birthday showing.

Turner, who travelled from Worthing to the West End every day, said: “People have sometimes said to me that we’re only keeping it on to break records. It’s nonsense, of course. There aren’t any records left to break.”

The cast is changed every 10 months. Turner gets 3,000 applications a year from actors.

“My desk is piled high with them. Isn't that amazing'” he said.

And actors are warned not to camp it up in the venerable thriller. “It is very, very easy to send Agatha Christie up but one shouldn't,” he said. “It does make me cross when people run it down. There is an element of jealousy.”

The investors in the original show have been rewarded 1,000 times over but the two British film producers who bought the movie rights were not so lucky. The pair, who agreed to start filming six months after the play closed, have long since died.

Agatha Christie’s grandson Mathew Prichard who was given the play’s stage rights for his ninth birthday felt that Christie, who died in 1976, would be watching over the glittering gala.

“I think she would be celebrating with a glass of ginger beer. I hope wherever she is that she is enjoying is as much as we are,” he said.

Christie's murder mystery opened at the Ambassadors Theatre on November 25, 1952, when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, Harry S Truman was President of the US, and television stopped at 10.30 pm. Quaintly old-fashioned, it has run without interruption ever since and has been seen by 10 million theatregoers.

How much money it has made is a better guarded secret than who committed the murder at Monkswell Manor.

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