EastEnders Todd Carty joined us to chat about his role as Major Metcalf in the iconic thriller The Mousetrap. He speaks about not spilling the beans on the longest-running play in the world and his rise to fame in the children’s show Grange Hill.
What attracted you to The Mousetrap?
I saw it about 40 years ago, when I was a much younger man, and when I got the call ‘Would you like to be in The Mousetrap?’ I didn’t hesitate. I remembered it being such a great play and I’ve always been an Agatha Christie fan, having first gotten hooked on her storytelling by seeing the Margaret Rutherford/Miss Marple films on TV. Now here I am 40 years later playing Major Metcalf in the UK and Ireland tour. It’s fantastic.
How would you describe Major Metcalf and his role in the story?
He’s a retired Army major and one of the guests in a guesthouse in the countryside. All of the characters have a secret and a mysterious background that audiences can’t quite put a finger on. The audience becomes the detective trying to work out who’s up to no good and who isn’t, along with the real detective on stage. Major Metcalf appears to be a typical ex-Army guy. He enjoys the odd drop of brandy in the evening and maybe the odd drop of Scotch at lunch. On the face of it he seems to want to help people but every now and then the characters in the play disappear and we don’t know what they’re up to, Major Metcalf included.
The show is celebrating its 70th anniversary. How do you account for its longevity?
I honestly don’t know. That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? We’re opening at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, where it premiered back in 1952 before a short tour and then moving to the West End where it continues to play. I think basically we all like a whodunnit because we’re all amateur detectives, we’re all modern day Columbos. I’ve been to see the show again recently and in the audience there are kids 13 right up to grandmas and granddads, all going ‘He did it’ or ‘No, it was her or him’. When I first saw it I couldn’t quite work it out myself but it’s great fun trying to figure out who the killer is.
Does it surprise you, especially in an era of social media, that audiences don’t spill any secrets about who the murderer is?
It does, yes. Maybe there are things online and with all the social media nowadays it’s very hard to keep a secret, but for some reason people honor the request not to reveal any secrets once they’ve seen the show. And following on from what I said earlier, it’s a family show. It’s got ups and downs, twists and turns, with a gentle humor to it. The fact it’s still going strong shows that nothing beats a good story, a good mystery and good old-fashioned entertainment.
You came to fame in Grange Hill. What are your memories of that time?
Not to give my age away, I had been acting since I was four. I loved doing all those adverts when I first started out but Grange Hill changed my whole life. One day I was happily going to school, the next day I was Tucker Jenkins. The day before it first aired in 1978 nobody on the tube knew who I was, then the next day it was ‘Bang’. Anonymity was a thing of the past.
What have been your favourite jobs over the years?
I loved doing EastEnders and The Bill. I did five years on and off playing Patsy in Spamalot and that was brilliant. I’d sing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life every night and there’d be seven and eight year olds singing along, Mum and Dad singing it, Granny and Granddad, and they all knew the words.
What do you most enjoy about doing stage work?
It sounds obvious and clichéd but it’s the audience. When you’re doing a panto and all the kids are getting involved and shouting back, going ‘Oh yes he did’ and ‘Oh no he didn’t’, it’s a great feeling. Plays are different but the audience is listening to every word, and with The Mousetrap they’re thinking ‘Ooh, I thought it was so and so’. I love live theatre and it’s especially pleasing now, after the pandemic when people who work in theatre had a really tough time. It’s great being around other actors and crew members again. There was a time long gone by when we took it for granted but now it feels like we’re all ten feet tall. It’s a lovely feeling. I can’t tell you how much it warms our hearts to be back in front of an audience.
Why do you think Agatha Christie is the most successful novelist of all time?
I do think we’re all amateur sleuths. We love trying to work out who did the deed. The Mousetrap is probably her most famous story and it’s a prime example of her skill at creating interesting characters and intriguing plots.
What are you most looking forward to about taking the show around the country?
Just the different reactions from different audiences. They always vary depending on where you are in the country and every night is different, with different reactions to different parts of the show. The show is hugely popular in the West End and this tour is marking the70th anniversary making it even more special. There’s a real appetite now for seeing good shows and supporting theatre. A lot of the people coming along will be Agatha Christie fans but they also tend to bring family members and friends with them, saying ‘You’ve got to come and see this’. That means a whole new audience is introduced to the show as well as existing fans. As for the cast and crew, we’ve been really happy during rehearsals and I’m sure we’ll be just as happy when we’re on the road.
Are there any stops on the tour that are dear to your heart?
For me being an Irish boy, with an Irish mother, Dublin and Cork are very special stops on the tour. I’m very proud of my Irish background, having had an Irish passport for over 40 years. Before the jet set holidays in the late 60s and early 70s I used to go and visit my cousins in Ashbourne in County Meath mainly, then the next year during the summer holidays they would come over to England. I’ll be seeing them again when I’m over there and hopefully.., well, I say hopefully but I can promise you I’ll be having a few drops of the Black Stuff.