Twenty Years Ago Today: Longest-Serving Understudy Retires

109175997_nancy_312203c croppedTwenty years ago today, an actress announced her retirement from the longest running theatrical production in the West End of London, The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. The Mousetrap is famed for having run for decades, despite the entire population of the planet presumably having seen it several times over (though for some reason I have managed to avoid this). But this isn't the remarkable thing about this story. The remarkable thing is that the actress in question was not one of the lead actors, nor even a spear-carrier, but an understudy in the role of the grumpy hotel guest, Mrs Boyle. And she'd been understudying for the last fifteen years before she finally retired at the age of 79. Nancy Seabrooke began her role in 1979, and was called upon to actually perform it 72 times over the fifteen years and 6240 performances of her tenure, including one five week run, though she hadn't actually played the part for five years by the time she retired. She'd auditioned for the role the year after she began, but never won it in a full-time capacity. She rehearsed and watched the play once a week to stay fresh, but otherwise spent most of her time doing needlework and reading in what she described as a rather comfortable dressing room (better than some understudies, who have to put up with whatever dressing room doesn't have functional central heating).

She wasn't always an understudy; she'd had a few roles on TV in the 60s, and had often worked as a stage manager. Given that she started on The Mousetrap at the age of 64, you could even call it a kind of a retirement in and of itself. She's still in the Guinness Book of Records as the understudy who lasted the longest, while The Mousetrap is there as well, as the play that's gone on the longest.

She was given a solo curtain call on her last night, March the 12th, and passed away in 2003. The Mousetrap continues to this day, now in its 62nd year.