COLLECTING PLAYS: The 11 Original Agatha Christie Stage Plays
Updated: Nov 28, 2020
Most collectors of Agatha Christie's written word seek her first edition novels. However, Agatha Christie was also a writer of stage plays, radio dramas and television scripts. This article will focus on one segment of her stage plays - original works. It should be noted that her full oeuvre of stage-based play scripts fall into three categories:
1) Original works.
2) Adapted or revised works.
3) Adapted by others.
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. Nine of them can be obtained in a variety of formats to read, though only seven were originally published as 'acting editions' in soft-cover format. The first editions of these plays are an essential part of any complete Christie collection. More importantly, if you haven't read these as penned by Christie then you are missing out on a significant part of her literary canon. The date Christie wrote these plays is up for debate. Original performances often used scripts that weren't yet officially copyrighted and plays may have been written many years prior to the first performance. The dates used here generally reflect either the known year written, or if unknown the first performance year.
The 11 originals are:
The Lie (1920s?)
Black Coffee (1930)
A Daughter’s a Daughter (1937)
Spider’s Web (1954)
The Unexpected Guest (1958)
Rule of Three: The Rats (1961)
Rule of Three: Afternoon at the Seaside (1961)
Rule of Three: The Patient (1961)
Fiddlers Five (1971)
Some collectors may argue that Fiddlers Three (1972) is an original play, but I propose that it is better suited in the second grouping of stage plays - those adapted from prior works by Christie. Others may wonder why her most famous stage play of all - The Mousetrap - is not on this list. It, too, was an adaption - of a radio drama titled Three Blind Mice. These other segments of Christie's oeuvre will all be subjects for future articles.
As mentioned earlier, seven of these original ten plays were first published in 'acting editions' by Samuel French Ltd. Her first original play, Black Coffee, was first published as an 'acting edition' by Alfred Ashley in 1934 and is by far the rarest first printing to find. A prior article on this play script can be found at this link: Black Coffee The first and last original plays written, The Lie and Fiddlers Five, have never been published in their original versions, while A Daughter's A Daughter is only available as a pre-publication manuscript from Samuel French.
First Edition Identification:
It should be noted that the original copyright dates are often years earlier than the first published dates as play scripts were generally copyrighted prior to production. Retail versions of the scripts, the 'acting editions', would be 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. Once demand is stable and known, then Samuel French will consider whether to publish an acting edition.
Black Coffee (1930): First acting edition published by Alfred Ashley, 1934, priced 'two shilling and sixpence net'. Copyright states 'Copyright, 1930, by Agatha Christie' and 'Acting Edition Copyright, 1934, by Agatha Christie'. The first Samuel French edition was published in June 1952.
Akhnaton (1937): First edition published in hardback book format with dust wrapper by Collins, 1973 priced £1.80 net on the front flap. There is no acting edition, though Samuel French does offer a pre-publication manuscript that states 'Copyright 1937 by Agatha Christie'.
A Daughter’s a Daughter (1937): It should be noted that Christie placed her name on the play as the author even though the later book version was 'penned' by Mary Westmacott. The first stage production in 1950 also used the Westmacott name. Not published yet as an 'acting edition' play script. Available from Samuel French only as a pre-publication manuscript since 2018 but now under the name Agatha Christie. Copyright was owned by Rosalind Hicks.
Spider’s Web (1954): First acting edition published by Samuel French, February 1956, in blue covers priced '5s net' (five shillings) on the top right corner. Copyright states '1956 by Agatha Christie'. Front cover also states 'French's Acting Edition No. 834', the spine states 'Spider's Web' and the rear cover is plain. Later printings were priced '6s net', some have no reference to 'No. 834' and many have ads on the rear panel.
The Unexpected Guest (1958): First acting edition published by Samuel French 1960, in blue covers, priced '6s net' (six shillings) on the top right corner. Copyright states 'Unpublished, by Agatha Christie, 1958'. Front cover also states 'French's Acting Edition', the spine states 'The Unexpected Guest' and the rear cover is plain. Later editions moved the '6s net' price to the foot of the spine.
Verdict (1958): Published by Samuel French 1958, in blue covers priced '6s net' on the top right corner. Copyright states '1958 by Agatha Christie Limited'. Front cover also states 'French's Acting Edition 833', the spine states 'Verdict' and the rear cover is blank. See the image at the top of the article.
Rule of Three: The Rats (1961): Published by Samuel French 1963, in blue covers, priced '2s 6d net' on the spine only (two shillings and sixpence). Copyright states '1963 by Agatha Christie Ltd'. Front cover's now place 'French's Acting Edition' across the bottom, the spine has both the play name and price and the rear cover is blank.
Rule of Three: Afternoon at the Seaside (1961): Published by Samuel French 1963, priced '2s 6d net'. All first edition points are the same as The Rats.
Rule of Three: The Patient (1961): Published by Samuel French 1963, priced '2s 6d net'. All first edition points are the same as The Rats.
Fiddlers Five (1971): Not published. The reworked Fiddlers Three is available as a pre-publication manuscript since 2018.
Differences between UK, US and other regional editions:
Samuel French generally only published one edition, priced for the UK market. When the book was shipped to foreign distributors, the price was often blacked out and a local price stamped onto the cover. If the US, original pricing was '$1.25' for Spider's Web, The Unexpected Guest and Verdict, and either '75 cents' or '$0.75' for any of the Rule of Three plays.
We are not aware of any foreign priced version of the first edition of Black Coffee - input from other book dealers or collectors is welcome. Akhnaton was priced '$6.95' in the US and the book was identical except for the dust jacket. Other regional copies generally had price-clipped jackets. The pre-publication manuscripts are not priced.
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 original Christie works, examples of these plays 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 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. 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. 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:
Black Coffee: $500 - $1,500
Akhnaton: $50 - $100 (Collins book)
Spider's Web: $100 - $250
The Unexpected Guest: $100 - $250
Verdict: $100 - $250
Rule of Three: The Rats: $50 - $100
Rule of Three: Afternoon at the Seaside: $50 - $100
Rule of Three: The Patient: $50 - $100
Comments and insights from other collectors are always most welcome.