St Martin's Theatre, London WC2
Opened 25 November, 1952 (Ambassadors Theatre, London WC2); reviewed November, 2000

The longest running stage play in the world is a tourist attraction, even a landmark, but not much of a theatre experience.

The cast changes entirely every twelve months, and the set and costumes have just been overhauled to celebrate the play's 20,000th performance, but the effect of this is mainly to emphasise the antique attitudes on show. Some lines seem to have been updated (I'll bet that reference to the Aga stove isn't original), others more perplexingly not (why cook "well disguised corned beef" for dinner when this is so visibly not a world of post-war food rationing?). The telephone and radio are antique, but that queer young man is wearing a modish designer cardigan. Ah, yes... most of all, the sniggering, sneering hints that several characters are gay or lesbian (from the days when explicit references thereto were censored) come over today as more than a little offensive themselves.

As for the country-house mystery story: it's a Christie. We are given some clues and some red herrings, some others are conjured out of thin air for the dénouement. Nowadays it works neither on the level of suspense nor as a "police procedural". And, in case anyone does not already know, the murderer is of course the

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Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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