Agatha Christie is renowned for her detective novels and short story collections, particularly those revolving around fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple but she also had a life-long love of theatre, adapting a number of her novels for the stage as well as writing directly for theatre.
“Plays are much easier to write than books, because you can see them in your mind’s eye, you are not hampered by all that description which clogs you so terribly in a book and stops you from getting on with what’s happening.”
In 1928, Michael Morton adapted The Murder of Roger Ackroyd for the stage under the title Alibi. The play enjoyed a respectable run, but Christie disliked the changes made to her work and, in future, preferred to write for the theatre herself. In 1936, Frank Vosper was given permission to adapt Agatha Christie’s 1924 short story Philomel Cottage into the play Love from a Stranger (Rep production 1938).
The first of her own stage works was Black Coffee, which received good reviews when it opened in the West End in late 1930. She followed this up with adaptations of her detective novels: And Then There Were None in 1943 (produced at the Rep in 1975 under the title Ten Little Indians), Appointment with Death in 1945, and The Hollow in 1951 (Rep production 2007).
In the 1950s, “the theatre engaged much of Agatha’s attention.” She next adapted her short radio play into The Mousetrap, which premiered in the West End in 1952, produced by Peter Saunders. Her expectations for the play were not high; she believed it would run no more than eight months. It has long since made theatrical history, staging its 27,500th performance in September 2018. The play closed down in March 2020, when all UK theatres shut due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In 1953, she followed this with Witness for the Prosecution, whose Broadway production won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best foreign play of 1954 and earned Christie an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Spider’s Web, an original work written for actress Margaret Lockwood at her request, premiered in 1954 and was also a hit. She is also the first female playwright to have three plays running simultaneously in London’s West End: The Mousetrap, Witness for the Prosecution and Spider’s Web. She followed these with The Unexpected Guest (Rep production 1991) and Verdict.
In a letter to her daughter, Christie said being a playwright was
“a lot of fun!”