Our History

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Our charity was founded by Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen in 1996, under the original name of Mousetrap Foundation For The Arts.

Stephen had just purchased the production rights to the world’s longest running play, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which was in its 45th year in the West End. He believed it was time the play gave something back, so he founded The Mousetrap Foundation for the Arts as an education charity to bring disadvantaged young people into the West End to experience theatre.  Our Director Susan Whiddington came on board as Director in 1997 and has led our organisation ever since.

Since then, we have taken 200,000 young people to the theatre and developed over 20 different access, education and theatregoing programmes. In 2018 we celebrated the 21st anniversary of Mousetrap Theatre Projects and we took a moment to reflect back on some of the highlights of the incredible experiences and work we’ve had the joy to deliver throughout our history. Here are just a few of them…


The Mousetrap Foundation opened its doors on 19th May with Susan Whiddington as the sole employee in the role of Director, housed in the understudy’s dressing room at the St Martin’s Theatre, home of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.

Our organisation was founded in 1996 by Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen (left)

Our organisation was founded in 1996 by Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen (left)



In March, we launched our first event – a free all-student performance of Art at Wyndham’s Theatre starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtney and Ken Stott followed by an after-show talk with all three cast members.


Family First Nights was launched in association with Peabody Trust, which brought 125 families to seven West End musicals.

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Piloted Envision, the only scheme of its kind in the UK, for blind and partially sighted young people to participate in a theatre education day, taking young people to Cats and An Inspector Calls.


Launched two education projects: Crossing Curricula, enabling teachers to use a theatre visit and interdisciplinary workshops to explore classroom subjects and Play the Critic, providing students the skills needed to analyse and write a critical review of a play they chose to attend.


Celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Mousetrap with a special performance attended by the Queen enabling us to enlist 38 first-ever individual donors. Launched ‘See a Show for £5’ (now part of Go Live theatre club): a theatregoing club for young people aged 15 – 18.

We founded our first independent theatre-going club for young people in 2002.

We founded our first independent theatre-going club for young people in 2002.


Piloted Taking Your Part, using a play as a catalyst to explore citizenship issues. Targeted outer London boroughs to attend theatre with free tickets.


Launched The London Theatre Challenge with funding from the Department for Education and Skills, which enabled us to reach many more students across London as well as target special schools for the first time.


Launched PowerPlay, offering a theatre visit and drama workshops over a full term to students in Pupil Referral Units. Piloted TechTaster, offering lighting and sound design skills to students and an intensive training workshop for their teachers.


Launched WriteThinking, engaging professional playwrights to mentor students to write their own short plays that were performed by professional actors and critiqued by writers and directors.


Changed our name to Mousetrap Theatre Projects. As part of a year-long 10th anniversary celebration, we offered two free all-student matinees: Billy Elliot the Musical and Wicked. Launched WestEnd4£10 (now part of Go Live theatre club: a theatregoing club offering young people aged 19-21 the opportunity to attend the theatre for just £10 a ticket.


Piloted StageXchange, working directly in the community with youth clubs offering a theatre visit and a series of drama workshops. Began offering 90-minute Insight Sessions for Theatreopeners. Named Charity of the Year by WhatsOnStage.


Hosted a free all-schools’ matinee of The Lion King for special school students. Launched StageBusiness to teach the ‘business of theatre’ – producing, marketing and budgeting.


Launched the Youth Forum, a group of active young people who help us reach young theatregoers and run their own special events. Piloted DesignTasters to teach students costume and set design.


Launched Stagesong, bringing lyricists and composers into classrooms to help music students compose their own mini-musicals. Created Key Schools Forum with teachers to advise us on our work.


Organised the first ever West End Relaxed Performance at Shrek the Musical. Piloted Stageseen for hearing impaired young people, launched Nextstage to develop employability skills and launched Summer Stage: our annual low-cost performing arts summer school.



Set up a ‘rep’ scheme in schools to recruit new theatregoers. Commissioned a 10-year longitudinal study of the impact of Family First Nights.


Hosted our second Relaxed Perforamance, this time at Mamma Mia! Launched Act Out and Telling the Tale in schools and recruited a Youth Forum member onto our Board of Trustees.


Piloted ‘StageSeen Scripted’, a playwriting project for deaf and hard of hearing young people and Direct It, teaching directing skills to drama students. Hosted an exclusive all-family performance of The Scottsboro Boys for Family First Nights families.


Hosted a sold-out relaxed performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and expanded our Envision theatre days to include families who participate in drama workshops and attend the audio-described performances.



Our Youth Forum hosted our first Youth Leadership in the Arts Conference, bringing together aspiring young arts leaders for a day of training, workshops and networking. Launched Theatrescene4£15: a theatregoing club for young people aged 24-29. Launched Skill Up to bolster students’ interest in selecting Drama at GCSE.


Celebrated our 21st anniversary with a fantastic Gala, filling the Prince of Wales Theatre with loyal supporters and our beneficiaries of families and young people. Offered two all-family performances to celebrate 20 years of Family First Nights and launched Next Stage Inclusive. Named What’sOnStage Awards nominated charity.

Thank you to everyone who has supported and participated in our programmes over the past 21 years. You’ve shaped our history and extended our impact - and we couldn’t have done any of this without you!

As our Director Susan says in this video, “here’s to the next 21 years!”