• David Morris

COLLECT: Plays - Adapted by Agatha Christie

Most collectors of Agatha Christie's written works seek her first edition novels. However, Agatha Christie was also a writer of stage plays, radio dramas and television scripts. Agatha Christie stage plays fall into three categories:


1) Original plays, by Christie.

2) Adapted plays, by Christie.

3) Adapted plays, by others.


This article will focus on the second category – plays adapted by Agatha Christie from her own 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 11. For the complete article on these please click here. The second category to collect would be her own adaptations – of which there are 12. For a completist, collecting those adapted by others is still important. For the article discussing those plays click here.


Beyond stage plays, Agatha Christie also independently penned four radio plays and one television play. Obtaining copies of these scripts for one's own reading pleasure is now possible for all but one of the radio plays. For the full article on collecting these, click here.



The Adapted Plays Written by Agatha Christie:

For the 12 adapted plays below, the date cited is believed to be the year Agatha Christie wrote the playscript. The actual years of publication and copyright are provided in the descriptions.


1928: Chimneys.

This play had originally been slated to be performed in London in 1931 yet a performance never occured. For decades the original manuscript went missing and didn't resurface until the early 2000s. First performed in 2003, the playscript is now published by Samuel French. The copyright is dated 1928.

The first publication by Samuel French, under the title “The Secret of Chimneys”, was as a comb-bound printing – called a ‘Samuel French manuscript” and published around 2018. It is now available in a normal acting edition printing, tavailable from Samuel French’s parent company – Concord Theatricals. The current inventory appears to be original stock from circa 2020 so first edition first printings can still be acquired at £9.99 UK or $9.95 US from either the UK or US websites.


1932: The Stranger.

This playscript was first published in 2017 by Samuel French but with a 1932 copyright. The play was first professionally performed by iTheatre Saratoga, at the Riggi Theatre, Saratoga, New York, USA on 25th January 2019. While most readers of Christie related plays are familiar with Love From A Stranger, written by Frank Vosper and first published in 1937 by Samuel French Limited, Christie’s adaptation is an earlier self-written version. The two plays have some similarities but also significant differences. Christie’s is a three act play with six characters. Act 1 set in a Kensington flat, while Act II and III occur three months later at a country cottage. Vosper’s play is also three Acts, but each act is divided into two scenes and featuring eight actors. Act I is set in a Bayswater (London) flat in March, while Act II and III occur across April and September in a country cottage. Of note, Vosper also starred in the opening production of the play. For more details on this play click here.

Since this was first printed recently, the current inventory at Samuel French (Concord Theatricals) appears to be original stock so first edition first printings can still be acquired at £9.99 UK or $9.95 US from either the UK or US websites. When ordering, be certain you are acquiring The Stranger, not Love From a Stranger.


1934 (circa): Someone at the Window.

This play has not yet been published for sale nor performed. However, several copies of the typescript do exist as it was distributed to various agents and theatres for possible production in the 1930s. While the play is based on the story “The Dead Harlequin”, Christie removed the characters of Harley Quin and Mr Satterthwaite. The play includes a two-act flashback to 1919 at "Canforth Castle" and in the third act the scene shifts to London in 1934. Thus, it is assumed it was written around 1934, though no copyright date is known. The playscript is long, being some 175 pages and includes a cast of 16 characters.

Hopefully, Agatha Christie Limited will authorize publication of this play for collectors to acquire and read. Early typescripts are uncommon and valuable. While some collectors may pay whatever it takes to acquire one, fair value for a copy of this typescript is likely in the £2,000 - £4,000.


1942: Murder on the Nile.

This play was adapted from Christie's Death On The Nile, which in turn “may have” come from a draft play, Moon On The Nile. As with most plays, the public printed version for purchase appeared several years after the professional production began. In 1944 the play was known as Hidden Horizon for its first professional performance in Dundee, Scotland. When it opened in 1946 in London's West End, the name was finally settled on as Murder On The Nile.

First published in 1948 by Samuel French as French's Acting Edition No. 174, the first edition printing has a copyright date of 1948 and a price of 'Four Shillings Net' on the cover spelled out underneath the artwork by Joyce Dennys. The performance page states there is a “fee of three guineas for amateurs”. The rear cover is blank.


The second edition would have '4s net' printed in the top right corner of the cover. Published by Samuel French Ltd in March 1948. This playscript is one of the more desirable to collect because of its cover art. For a more detailed article on this play and the artwork, click here.


For a correct state first edition, fair value is now likely £200. The second edition, priced ‘4s net’ would be worth around £100.


1943: And Then There Were None.

Written under the original title of the UK book, Ten Little Niggers. It was performed in the US market with the title Ten Little Indians. First performed at the Wimbledon Theatre on September 20, 1943, the play transferred to the St James's Theatre in London’s West End on November 17, 1943.

The playscript was first published by Samuel French in 1944 under the original UK title as French’s Acting Edition No. 940 and priced Four Shillings Net on the cover. There are two known variants of this printing – one lists four locations for Samuel French on the copyright page (London, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto), the other adds a fifth, Sydney, and has the addition of ‘Made in England’ at the foot of the page. While there is no certainty on the printing sequence, the version omitting Sydney is generally considered the first state. Both states not on the performance page that there is a “fee of five guineas for amateurs”. A correct first state, first printing of this play is likely fair value up to £200.


In the US market, a "Revised Acting Edition" was published in 1946 under the title "Ten Little Indians". Samuel French originally priced it 85 cents on the front cover, and published it in grey soft boards. Both their New York and Los Angeles offices are referenced on the copyright page (image above). A very good copy is worth $50.


1944: Towards Zero (version 1 or “Outdoors”).

Christie wrote this play after accepting a commission from Lee Shubert, of the Shubert Theatre organization in New York. It is a three act, five scene drama played out over eight days by thirteen actors solely on the outdoor terrace of Lady Tressilian’s house. Shubert ran the play for a trial run in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, USA that began on 4th September 1945 (just 2 days after Japan surrendered). He wrote back to Christie that "We found the climax came too suddenly and the final situation was not plausible to the audience." It is possible this feedback caused Christie to reach out to Verner to collaborate with her to rewrite the play (see below: 1956 version).


After the Martha’s Vineyard run, the script was shelved, and no productions occurred. The script was rediscovered in 2015. It was performed in 2019 at The Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich, England – the first European staging – 74 years after its last production.

The play is referred to by the publisher, Samuel French, as Towards Zero (Outdoors) when ordering. It was first published as a comb-bound ‘Samuel French manuscript’ around 2015. The more traditional perfect bound playscript was published in 2018 and the current inventory at Samuel French (Concord Theatricals) appears to be original stock so first edition first printings can still be acquired at £9.99 UK or $9.95 US from either the UK or US websites.


1944: Appointment with Death.

It was first performed in January 1945 at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland. It played at a variety of other venues across the UK before arriving in the West End on March 31, 1945 at the Piccadilly Theatre. The script was significantly different from the book, including the removal of Poirot (consistent with many of her plays) and a change in the murder dynamics. While the first copyright was issued in 1945 was to Agatha Christie Mallowan, a further copyright was issued in 1956 to Agatha Christie. It is unclear whether there were meaningful differences in the script warranting two different copyrights. However, according to our sources at Samuel French the early production never resulted in a playscript being published. Samuel French advises us that the first playscript was printed in August 1956, priced at four shillings.

This is a surprisingly challenging playscript to find and, as we just discovered as it is not in our own collection and we don't see one for sale. If one of our readers has a photo of this first printing, please share it with us so we can add it to this article. When a correct first state appears on the market, we would expect its likely fair value to be approximately £200.


1951: The Hollow.

Christie signed a contract to write this play in 1950, and it was first performed at the Arts Theatre in Cambridge, February 10th, 1952. Thus, we assume the play was written in 1951. When published by Samuel French it had a copyright of 1952. The playscript had brown soft covers and was numbered as French’s Acting Edition No. 8, priced 5s. net on the spine. It is still incredibly unclear how the edition numbers were assigned as there seem no logic to it.

The early printings of this play has a red ink stamp stating “In no circumstances whatever may this play be performed by amateurs prior to -1 OCT 1953”. The correct first state would have a blank rear cover and states “F.A.E. No. 8” on the spine along with the price.

The second state had a list of 12 other London productions referenced, including Christie’s “The Hollow” and states “French’s Acting Edition No. 8” on the spine along with the price. In a prior article (click here), this play script was included as what we refer to as the ‘French Four’ - four Christie play scripts published in the 1950s that used brown soft covers with art incorporated. After these, Samuel French started using blue covers without artwork. Fair value for a first printing, first state with the red ink stamp would be £150 - £200.


1952: The Mousetrap.

This play's genesis was the radio play Agatha Christe wrote for Queen Mary’s 80th birthday celebrations in 1947 - then titled "Three Blind Mice". Christie then adapted the radio play into a short story which was first published in 1948 in Cosmopolitan magazine (US). It first appeared in hardback in the Dodd, Mead & Co (US) published collection Three Blind Mice and Other Stories (1950).


The play, based on both the radio play and short story, was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham on 6 October 1952. Its first West End performance in London was on 25 November 1952 at the New Ambassadors Theatre (programme image below right).

The playscript was first published two years later, in late 1954, by Samuel French as French’s Acting Edition No. 153, priced 5s net (copyright 1954). Printed in brown soft covers with brown and black artwork, this is also one of the plays we referred to as the ‘French Four’ – published in this style.


The first state has the following text on the performance page: “Under no circumstances may any performance or reading of this play be given at present by Amateurs”. The second state states on the performance page: “Fee of five guineas for Amateurs”. There are many later printings and Samuel French continued to use the artwork, though in a slightly smaller size, on later reprints. A correct first printing, first state in very good or better condition is fairly valued at £100 - £125.


1953: Witness for the Prosecution.

While the BBC televised an adaptation of this story in 1949, as did some US broadcasters in the following years, these were not written by Christie and were heavily abridged given their limited time slots. The play Christie wrote, adapted from her short story, which was originally issued under the title Traitor’s Hands (more details here) was potentially the source material for a live television performance on September 17, 1953 in the US on the CBS network as part of their Lux Theatre programming. However, given its 1-hour timeslot and intermission, even if Christie’s script was the basis, the production was clearly heavily abridged.

The first time the play was performed in full on stage was September 28, 1953 in Nottingham, England. It transferred to the West End one month later, opening at the Winter Garden Theatre on October 28, 1953.

The play was both published in a book and as a playscript in 1954. It is unclear which was published first. The hardback book, with yellow wrapper, was titled Famous Plays of 1954 by Victor Gollancz Ltd, London (1954). The first playscript was published by Samuel French as French’s Acting Edition No. 648 in blue soft covers. Priced 5s net., it was printed in July 1954, for sale globally. The performance page of the first state notes that there is a fee of “five guineas for amateurs” but also “The performance of the play by amateurs may be restricted in certain territories overseas”. The back cover is blank. A very good or better jacketed copy of the book is worth £50 while the first edition, first state of the Samuel French playscript in very good or better condition is worth £100 - £125.


1956: Towards Zero (version 2).

This second more widely known version of the play was first staged on 4th September 1956 at the St James's Theatre in the West End of London, and was produced by Peter Saunders. It is different from Christie’s 1945 script and was now adapted by Agatha Christie in collaboration with Gerald Verner.


It was first published by Samuel French Ltd. in 1957. There are two stated copyrights – a 1956 unpublished version, and the 1957 acting edition. It is unclear what differences there may be between them.

The first state printing is in blue soft covers. The performance page states “Caution: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that Towards Zero is subject to a royalty”. The correct first state also has both ‘Towards Zero’ and ‘Agatha Christie’ printed in red on the cover, priced 6s net on the top right corner. Later states no longer used red ink on the cover. The rear cover lists 12 other new plays published by Samuel French. The correct first state is likely fairly valued up to £100 in very good condition.


In the US market, there was a unique version published by Dramatists Play Service Inc with yellow soft covers. Dramatists Play Service Inc handled the rights for amateur productions of this play. Usually, only Samuel French sold playscripts in the US, so this is a bit of an oddity. This version is fairly valued up to $30 in very good condition.


1960: Go Back for Murder.

While this play is based on the Hercule Poirot novel Five Little Pigs, Christie omitted the character of Poirot from the playscript, consistent with many other stage adaptations. Poirot's function in the play is filled by a young lawyer named Justin Fogg, son of the lawyer who led Caroline Crale's defence. The play’s West End premiere was on March 23, 1960 at the Duchess Theatre.

The playscript was first printed by Samuel French in 1960 in blue soft covers. It states French’s Acting Edition on the bottom of the front cover, but is not numbered. The first state is priced “6s net” on the spine, has a blank rear cover. The performance pages states ‘The publication of this play must not be taken to imply that it is necessarily available for performance’. Later printings state the performance fee is 5 guineas. A very good or better first state copy has a fair value of £40.


Hard Back Collection:

Most of these plays were reprinted in hardback for the US market in The Mousetrap and Other Plays in 1978 and in the UK in1993. This collection includes the playscripts for: And Then There Were None (Ten Little), Appointment with Death, The Hollow, Witness for the Prosecution, The Mousetrap, Towards Zero and Go Back for Murder. Also included is the original play Verdict.


First Edition Identification:

It should be noted that many original copyright dates are often years earlier than the first published dates as playscripts were frequently copyrighted prior to printing. Retail versions of the scripts, the 'acting editions', were often available years later. Recently Samuel French has adopted a policy of pre-publishing manuscripts in a large format (A4 or legal size) that is laser-printed & spiral-bound. These should be considered similar to 'advance proofs' - to plagiarize a term from the book industry – though Samuel French refers to them as ‘manuscripts’. Once demand is stable and known, then Samuel French will consider whether to publish an acting edition.


Other Points for Collectors:

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. Samuel French printings sold outside the UK often had the UK price, when on the cover, marked out, and a local currency price stamped on.


Collectibility:

When one considers that these adapted plays still represent original Christie works, they should be a part of any complete Christie collection. 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 very good or better firsts is hard.


If a playscript is well used then it will be significantly less appealing for a collector, and less valuable. Those where the price has been adjusted to local markets are only slightly less appealing. It should be noted that correct first editions are quite hard to find and prices are generally lower than they should be given scarcity. Lastly, there is still a lot of uncertainty in the Christie playscript market on the correct points for identifying a first printing leading to significant errors in pricing – both over and under valuing copies. Thus, an astute informed collector has a lot of opportunity to build a collection of playscripts while values are not fully realized yet.

Happy Hunting!


Comments and corrections are always most welcome.

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