(comprensione e produzione in lingua straniera)

Sir Peter Saunders – Shrewd producer of The Mousetrap”

Although he was one of the more prolific theatrical impresarios of his era, Peter Saunders inevitably

became known for one production only, as he acknowledged wryly in the title of his 1972 autobiography,

The Mousetrap Man. Opening in 1952, in the age of austerity, with rationing still in force, Agatha Christies

thriller The Mousetrap in 1971 became the worlds longest-running play and, although Saunders sold the


rights to Stephen Waley-Cohen when he gave up active management and his Maiden Lane office in the

Vaudeville Theatre (which he once owned), it runs on still at the St Martins Theatre in London. There are

some who

would argue that the play, set as it is in an isolated, snowbound country house, with detective dramas on the

wireless” and with funny foreigners such as Mr. Paravicini among the guests, is actually a paradigm of post-


war England, a tight little island forced to adapt to change (the houses gallant owners, Giles and Molly

Railton, have been forced by economics to turn it into an hotel). Saunders would have had none of such

fanciful metaphorical theories. When asked the secret of its continuing success, he said, Its a guessing

game, with suspense and comedy, and the whole family can enjoy it.”

For him, Agatha Christie provided just what the West End needed, good solid entertainment (he presented

many of Christies plays). His early experience as journalist and as press-agent was an important factor in the


plays development into a phenomenon; Saunders shrewdly capitalised on anything that might help publicise

the show, including holding an annual party at the Savoy, always to lavish press coverage, to clock up every

extra year of the run. He had never aimed to be an innovative producer. After education at Oundle School,

near Peterborough, he briefly worked in films as a cameraman before Fleet Street experience and Army

service during the Second World War, when he ended up as a Captain. Troop shows encouraged his


managerial leanings and he presented his first West End production, Fly Away, Peter (St Jamess), not a great

success, in 1947. It was the eye- opening experience of touring Christies Black Coffee (1950) to

remarkable box-office

receipts that persuaded him to turn to more of her work. He enjoyed a moderate success with The Hollow

(Fortune, 1951) before hitting paydirt when a young Richard Attenborough as Sgt Trotter and his wife

Sheila Sim as Molly opened in The Mousetrap (originally at the Ambassadors, 1952, and moving next door


to the St Martins some 22 years later). Saunders had another major Christie success with perhaps her best

play, Witness for the Prosecution (Winter Garden, 1953), which he also co-produced on Broadway, with

further money-makers from her pen following with Spiders Web (Savoy, 1954) and Verdict (Strand, 1958).

Thrillers and escapist light comedies were what Saunders enjoyed and understood best […]

Saunders also had a penchant for the light political comedies of William Douglas-Home, presenting The


Manor of Northstead (Duchess, 1954), The Reluctant Peer (Duchess, 1964) […]

But as theatrical tastes changed, Saunders stayed mostly resolutely entrenched in his own kind of theatre,

concentrating on mild thrillers – Justice is a Woman (Vaudeville, 1966), comedies such as Ray Cooney and

John Chapmans Move Over Mrs. Markham (Vaudeville, 1971) or starpacked revivals including Arsenic and

Old Lace (Vaudeville, 1966) with Sybil Thorndike, Athene Seyler and Richard Briers. Saunders tried to


climb onto the 1970s musical-anthology bandwagon with a tribute” (no creator credited) to the impresario

he most admired, C.B. Cochran, but Cockie (Vaudeville, 1975) was a misbegotten enterprise, with only the


Max Wall emerging with any glory […]. Saunders for a very large part of his entrepreneurial career was

active in the Society of West End Theatre (Swet – now the Society of London Theatre) including two stints as

its president, and was much admired by fellow – producers for his handling of business affairs. He



an unrepentant dinosaur in some ways – he always resisted any suggestion of offering tickets at anything less

than full price for his productions – but for all his sometimes gruff and peppery manner he was greatly

respected within the theatre industry and by many actors, while his staff- including Verity Hudson, his

general manager -were fiercely loyal.

His second marriage, to Katie Boyle, gave him great happiness in his later years.

Peter Saunders, theatre manager and producer: born London 23 November 1911 […] died London 6 February 2003.

(The Independent, 8 February 2003)



– Why was Peter Saunderss autobiography entitled The Mousetrap Man”?

– How long has Agatha Christies thriller been run?

– Explain why the play might be considered a paradigm of post-war England” (line 8).

– What does the journalist mean by such fanciful metaphorical theories” (line 10)?

– What was the secret of its continuing success, according to P. Saunders?

– Which experiences in P. Saunderss life were fundamental for his success as a producer?

– Which was the eye-opening experience” (line 20) that persuaded Peter to turn to more of A. Christies


– Explain the statement He remained an unrepentant dinosaur in some ways” (line 40) and the phrase gruff

and peppery manner” (line 41).

– Why was he admired and respected?

SUMMARIZE the content of the passage.

COMPOSITION: Write a similar article for the death of a person (either fictional or real) that you admire.

Alternatively, write about a thriller (film or play) that you have seen recently and that you

have particularly appreciated.


Durata massima della prova: 6 ore.

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