COLLECT: Plays - Adapted by Others from Christie's works.
Updated: Jan 29
Most collectors of Agatha Christie's works seek copies of her novels with first editions being the most appealing. In addition to novels, Agatha Christie was also a writer of stage plays, radio dramas and television scripts. However, there were also many individuals who adapted original Christie works for the stage – most authorized by Christie, a few not. Consequently, Agatha Christie’s full oeuvre of stage-based play scripts falls into three categories:
1) Original plays written by Agatha Christie. (link)
2) Plays adapted by Christie from her own original works. (link)
3) Plays adapted by others from Christie’s original works.
For someone seeking to start collecting Christie's play scripts, the logical place to start would be with her original works - of which there are 20 - though only 10 are in print and available to own. However, for those that would like to broaden their collections, this article will focus on plays adapted by other writers.
There are a total of eleven works that have been adapted by others into plays – two of which have recently been adapted multiple times as works leave copyright in the USA.
Alibi (1929): Adapted by Michael Morton from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Published and copyright by Samuel French, Ltd. The first printing has pale olive-green covers with dark font and states French’s Acting Edition. No. 1177 and is priced Two Shillings and Sixpence net. Note: when the play was performed in the United States in 1932 it was titled The Fatal Alibi. There is no known difference to this playscript and no known publishing of it under that title.
Love From A Stranger (1936): Adapted by Frank Vosper from Agatha Christie’s Philomel Cottage. It is highly likely that much of this script was sourced from a script Christie herself had written or begun work on. The final playscript was first published by Collins in 1936 both as a hardback and a paperback simultaneously. The hardback was priced 5/- while the paperback was priced 3/6 and still had flaps akin to a jacketed book. Either version of this book is exceptionally scarce.
The more traditional Samuel French acting edition was first published in 1937 (and copyrighted to that year) and has pale olive-green covers with dark font and states French’s Acting Edition. No. 75 and is priced Two Shillings and Sixpence net.
Tea for Three (1939): Dramatized by Margery Vosper (the sister of Frank Vosper) from the Agatha Christie short-story Accident. Published by Baker’s Plays in Boston, USA and included in Nelson’s Theatrecraft of plays, book 2 (1939) in the UK and priced One Shilling net.
Peril at End House (1945): Dramatized by Arnold Ridley. The play was first published by Samuel French in February 1945 as French's Acting Edition 962, priced 4s net.
Murder at the Vicarage (1950): Dramatized by Moie Charles & Barbara Toy. Published and copyright by Samuel French. The first printing has cover art by F.J. Lewis and states French’s Acting Edition No. 1818, the title and 5s net on the spine. Note: this play script is one of four we refer to as the ‘French Four’ that were all published in the 1950s with a consistent style. For the full article click here.
In 1957, a playscript for Towards Zero was published which will show up as adapted by Gerald Verner. Because Agatha Christie did collaborate on this adaptation, and given her own earlier script for Towards Zero (referred to a 'version 1'), we have placed the 2nd version in the list of plays discussing those adapted by Christie on her own works.
A Murder is Announced (1978): Adapted for the stage by Leslie Darbon. Copyright by Peter Saunders. Published by Samuel French. The first printing has white with blue covers, a photo of the set on the rear, and is not priced.
Cards on The Table (1982): Adapted for the stage by Leslie Darbon. Copyright by Agatha Christie Ltd and Peter Saunders Ltd. Published by Samuel French. The first printing has grey covers with red lettering, and is not priced.
Murder is Easy (1993): Adapted by Clive Exton. While Exton is perhaps most well known for his script writing for the Poirot television series starring David Suchet, his play was not a success and a script has not been published.
And Then There Were None (2005): Adapted by Kevin Eylot. Performed for a brief run in London, this version returned the play script to more closely follow the ending of the original novel. The play ran for 3 months. Unpublished though production scripts exist in the University of Bristol archives. Of note, Eylot wrote nine scripts of Miss Marple and Poirot episodes for Granada TV in the UK between 2003 and 2013.
In the United States, Christie’s early works are no rolling off copyright as the copyright expires 95 years after the original copyright date. Because of this many liberties may now be taken with her early works. One area where this is occurring is in plays adapted from Christie’s works. In the last 8 years alone there have now been five adaptations, as detailed below. It could be argued that these are less desirable to own and collect as neither Christie nor her estate were involved in the process nor provided any quality control or input.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles: Two adaptations:
1. (2012) – adapted by David Hansen. Published by Playscripts Inc.
2. (2016) – adapted by Jared Reed. Unpublished.
The Secret Adversary: Three adaptations:
1. (2013) – adapted by Tracy Wells. Printed scripts on demand in the USA by Big Dog Publishing.
2. (2015) – adapted by Sarah Punshon and Johann Hari. A pre-production manuscript is available from Samuel French in the USA.
3. (2017) – adapted by David Hansen. Printed scripts on demand from YouthPLAYS in the USA.
First Edition Identification:
It should be noted that the original copyright dates are often earlier than the first published dates as play scripts were generally copyrighted prior to production. Retail versions of the scripts, the 'acting editions' often would be available years later. Even from the first play, it was common for pre-published playscripts to be available for production companies. If a play became successful and many others wanted to produce it or individuals wanted to read it, the play would shift to a published version. This process continues today at Samuel French. These should be considered similar to 'advance proofs' - to plagiarize a term from the book industry. Once demand is stable and known, Samuel French will consider whether to publish an acting edition.
Many copies of play scripts had additional stickers attached to them stating that the publication of the play did not mean it was available for performance. These were generally added when a professional production was being staged. These stickers are usually on the cover but occasionally were placed inside. They do not add or detract from the value or appeal of a first edition.
When one considers that these all represent third-party adaptations of Christie works, some collectors may find them less appealing that her own original or personally adapted works. However, aside from the off-copyright versions, Christie had input or involvement in most of these adaptations so it can easily be argued that they are essential for any complete collection of her works.
For those who collect first editions, the historical challenge with plays has been correct identification and awareness of first printings. The value ranges provided are broad because many play scripts have been well used for their original purpose, and thus finding fine firsts is hard. The low end of each range represents a well used, but intact play script while the top end is for a fine edition. However, since most resellers (private and dealers) don't know what is a first, prices are often out of alignment. There is thus strong potential for appreciation.
Current Value Estimates:
Alibi (1929): Samuel French first edition: £200 - £300 UK ($260 - $390 US)
Love From a Stranger (1936): Collins, London, first edition: Hardback: £750; Paperback: £400.
Love From a Stranger (1937): Samuel French first edition: £175 - £250 ($230 - $340)
Tea for Three (1939): (a) Baker’s Plays edition: ultra-rare. Potentially £200 - £300 ($260 - $390); (b) Nelson’s Theatrecraft of Plays, No. 2: ultra-rare. Potentially £200 - £300 ($260 - $390).
Peril at End House (1945): Samuel French first edition: uncommon: £100 - £150 ($130 - $200)
Murder at the Vicarage (1950): Samuel French first edition: £70 - £100 ($90 - $130)
A Murder is Announced (1978): Samuel French first edition: £20 - £30 ($25 - $40)
Cards on the Table (1982): Samuel French first edition: £20 - £30 ($25 - $40)
Murder is Easy (1993): No Samuel French edition.
And Then There Were None (2005): No Samuel French edition.
All off-copyright versions: standard new print or used play script pricing.
Any pre-production or working scripts are periodically available for all these titles. Association copies or those with appealing signatures can command premium pricing. Otherwise, most early ‘advance proof’ versions are potentially valued £150 - £250 ($200 - $325).
Comments, corrections and insights from other collectors are always most welcome.