Agatha Christie also added 'playwright'
to her resume, having written a few originals while also adapting many her of
books. Just a handful plays were actually not adapted by her (Alibi,
Peril at End House, and Murder at the Vicarage).
The play Alibi
was the first play of Agatha Christie's, based on The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
It was directed by Sir Gerald du Maurier in 1928 and starred Charles Laughton as
Poirot. She didn't exactly approve of Poirot in the play and thought she'd try her own
hand at writing plays.
Her first play was Black Coffee in 1930 which was
fairly successful. So much so that a movie version was made in 1931 starring
Austin Trevor as a clean-shaven Poirot (Trevor had also portrayed Poirot already
in the film version of Alibi). Peril at End House was adapted by
Arthur Ridley and premiered in 1940, starring Francis L. Sullivan as Poirot. In
1949, Murder at the Vicarage was presented at the Playhouse Theatre in
London; it was adapted by Moie Charles and Barbara Toy. As far as I can tell,
Akhnaton is the only one that has not been produced.
Love from a Stranger & Ten Little Indians
Love from a Stranger (1936) is a play based on the excellent short story
"Philomel Cottage" from the collections The Listerdale Mystery
Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories). The next year, it was made
into a movie starring Basil Rathbone (the first film made in England of an
Agatha Christie work).
The novel Ten Little Niggers was adapted by
Christie for the stage in 1943 with a different ending, one that was more
romantic. The stage adaptation carried the same name in the UK, but was changed
to Ten Little Indians in the US (opening a year later). Agatha Christie
believed there was too much fuss and absurdity over the change of the title "Ten
Little Niggers": it was a nursery rhyme that children chanted innocently for
some 100+ years (even "Ten Little Indians" was a totally different tune). The four movies
on the play (set in different locales) kept the happier ending rather than the
one in the novel. I have seen a production of Ten Little Indians at a
community college once, and it remains one of my happiest days.
Murder on the Nile & The Hollow
Murder on the Nile is the play adapted from the Poirot novel Death
on the Nile, which opened in 1949 at the Ambassadors Theatre in London. For
US audiences, the play was re-titled Hidden Horizon (an ok title, but why
was it changed who knows). Next came the stage version of the Poirot novel
The Hollow, which opened in 1951. Something interesting here is the omission
of Hercule Poirot's character in the play. Speaking of the novel, Christie once
said "I had ruined [the novel] by the introduction of Poirot." I guess she
thought she'd do it the right way when adapting the play.
The Mousetrap, 1952
Program for a production of The Mousetrap in 2001, in the United States.
The Mousetrap is the longest running play in the world. It opened in
1952 at the Ambassadors Theatre in London (it is now at St. Martin's Theatre)
and it has not missed a performance. The play has a little history. Originally,
it was titled Three Blind Mice and it was a twenty-minute radio play
written by Agatha Christie in 1947. That play was written by the request of the
royal family of England for Queen Mary's 80th birthday and was broadcast by the
BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). The play later became a short story
(same title) and was included in the short story collection Three Blind Mice
and Other Stories, published only in the US. This short story was then
rewritten into the world famous play.
Plays of the 1950's
Witness for the Prosecution was adapted for the stage by Christie some
twenty years after it was first published. This expanded form was also made into
a successful movie in 1957. The play's ending is slightly changed in favor of
more justice than in the original story. The film version opened in 1958,
directed by Billy Wilder and starring Charles Laughton (the first to play Poirot
on stage), Marlene Dietrich, and Tyrone Power. It was a huge success, commercially and
Spider's Web is an original play written by Christie which was opened
in 1954. Christie wrote this comedy-thriller to provide a role for the actress
Margaret Lockwood. She plays a diplomat's wife attempting to identify the
murderer of a body she found in her drawing room; at the same time, she tries to
disguise the murder itself.
Another original play of the author's is The Unexpected Guest, which
premiered in 1958. This great play was so successful that it made the
theatre-going public forget about the unpopular previous play, Verdict, which is
discussed below. One writer, Derrick Murdoch, said "[The Unexpected Guest's]
last twenty minutes constitute a crescendo of theatrical bravura." This two-act
play was one of three written into novel form by the theatrical and Christie
expert Charles Osborne.
Go Back for Murder is the play adapted from the Poirot novel Five Little
Pigs. In my opinion, the play's title more closely resembles the novel's American
title, Murder in Retrospect. The play opened in 1960. Again, Poirot's character was
removed from the play.
Another original play is Verdict, written in 1958. It focuses of the
plight of Professor Karl Hendryk and the women around him. Helen wants to be
tutored by him (she loves him utterly), Lisa the physicist who takes care of his
invalid wife wants attention (she loves him utterly), and his wife Anya is
depressed about her condition (she loves him, too). Well, Anya is murdered and
Helen confesses to Hendryk that she killed Anya so that they can be "free" to
love. The police come over and arrest Lisa the physicist through evidence of the
maid. The police would question Helen, but Helen is murdered, too! What's the
verdict for Lisa (or Karl)? Agatha says this about her play: "I still think it
is the best play I have written, with the exception of Witness for the
Prosecution. It failed, I think, because it was not a detective story or a
thriller. It was a play that concerned murder."
Indeed it did fail. Audiences didn't like the fact that there was a corpse in
the play, but no mystery surrounding it. In its first performance (with Christie
in attendance), the audience was unresponsive, and so the stage crew got
flustered and the acting faltered a little. The first performance ended with the
curtain descending even before the final lines of the play were delivered; what
followed was booing from the crowd. Christie said later, "I tried to
write a play of character, but I can see I failed. I had thought to make Verdict
my last play, but you can't go out on a failure. So I'll try again." What
followed was the excellent The Unexpected Guest, discussed above.
Rule of Three, 1962
It is not known to me whether Rule of Three has been produced since
1962. Christie presented the play as three one-act plays. These mini-plays were
titled The Rats, The Patient, and Afternoon at the Seaside.
In The Rats, a young woman and man she loves are trapped in a missing
host's house--with the young woman's dead husband in a box, with the Kurdish
knife that killed him. The Patient takes place in a hospital ward where a
woman lies paralyzed, after having fallen off the balcony. The police inspector
has the girl answer questions about the would-be murderer through a series of
yes/no questions, and she reveals the culprit is . . . and the woman faints. The
murderer needs to silence her before she tells more! In Afternoon at the
Seaside, someone steals an emerald necklace at the beach and it is up to the
inspector to find out who did it. It could be Bob, the life of the party, or the
girl flirting with him, Noreen. Or is it the two couples sitting near the couple
and complaining about girls wearing bikinis?