Message from Steven Schipper, Artistic Director of Royal MTC
Agatha Christie was many things – apothecary, surfer, novelist, fugitive, archaeologist – but she was also the most successful female playwright in history, and the only one ever to have three plays on London’s West End at the same time. Her best-known play, The Mousetrap, has now been running there continuously for the past 62 years. She is only the second woman we’ve honoured with a Master Playwright Festival, and the first writer of mysteries (unless you count Stoppard, whose play The Real Inspector Hound was a satiric homage to plays like Christie’s).
Audiences love plays about detectives and the mysteries they solve, but they are devilishly difficult to write. Christie had to lay out clues that somehow keep us from guessing the identity of the murderer yet make the climactic revelation seem obvious in retrospect. The characters must be sympathetic yet suspicious. The murder must create suspense but not disgust. The dialogue must be both clever and realistic. The conclusion must satisfy us intellectually and emotionally. And the themes – love, justice, redemption – must resonate with an audience even after the whodunit is solved. It’s a wonder any writer bothers trying, let alone mastering the bloody things.
Yet Christie spent her life writing great mysteries for the stage and page, a task for which she was singularly well-suited. She drew on her pharmaceutical experience for the poisons that feature prominently in her work. Her eleven-day disappearance - and the highly-publicized manhunt it inspired - taught her about suspense and the popular imagination. Even archaeology informed her crime detection because, in both, “you have to clear away the debris to reveal the shining truth.” With ChristieFest, we hope to reveal the shining truth about this beloved playwright and her unquestioned mastery of our art form.