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See How They Run
Photograph: YouTube

How Saoirse Ronan’s new whodunnit recreates London’s theatreland

Five West End venues that helped ‘See How They Run’ construct the scene of the crime

Written by
Thomas Hobbs

Flipping the Agatha Christie thriller on its head, ‘See How They Run’ is an enjoyably self-aware take on the whodunnit. Its plot has mismatched cops Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) and Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) investigating the backstage murder of an odious Hollywood producer (Adrien Brody) at The Ambassadors Theatre’s 100th performances of ‘The Mousetrap’. Or as Ronan’s loveable, yet clumsy copper puts it: ‘He took a ski to the face, and it all went downhill from there!’

The world of the film may be a heightened take on theatreland’s caprices, but its London locations are very real. Thanks in part to lockdown, the production was afforded unprecedented access to a number of West End venues that doubled up for the Ambassadors Theatre of the movie. The Old Vic, Freemasons’ Hall, and Dominion Theatre were used for interiors; St Martin’s provides its glamorous façade.

As production designer Amanda McArthur explains, those iconic spots are the film’s secret sauce. We asked her to walk us through five key London locations from the shoot.

See How They Run locations guide

The Dominion Theatre
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. The Dominion Theatre

‘See How They Run is set eight years after World War II, when London is often depicted as downtrodden and bombed out. But we were amazed at how much vibrancy was coming out of London’s theatres at this time, which were being rebuilt and acting as a colourful epicentre for this new age of British culture.

The look of the film is inspired by the foyer of The Dominion Theatre. It has this stunning dark red colour, which feels luxurious but also deadly. Having the freedom to run around the theatre’s beautiful ironwork staircases created a real electricity on set.’

The Old Vic
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. The Old Vic

‘We wanted a backstage environment with old ropes and flying rigs, but not many of those exist anymore, so we recreated one inside of The Old Vic. It also doubled for the film’s auditorium and stage sequences.

If you’ve ever seen “The Mousetrap” on stage you’ll know that it has an incredibly brown set for the countryside mansion where the murder occurs. It was imperative that we jazzed it up a little, so we took a lot of inspiration from William Morris’s Red House. I used to work in theatre, so it felt like I was going back to my roots.’

The Freemasons’ Hall
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. The Freemasons’ Hall

‘The scene inside the theatre’s bar, where there’s a fight over a gigantic cake, was filmed in the bar at the top of London’s Freemason’s Hall. It has stunning stained-glass windows and there’s this eerie atmosphere that runs through the place, but the naturally cold air was perfect for a murder-mystery.

I loved that we had to keep slot-testing the cake to ensure it had the right consistency. Members of the production crew would run up and splatter the cake to check that it looked just right. Covid was going on, but here we were methodically destroying cakes.’

The Coal Hole
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. The Coal Hole

‘This pub on The Strand was a gift of a location! It’s so historic and you can still smell the cigar smoke from the Victorian era. The biggest issue was that the pub had modern pumps that couldn’t be removed, so we got some pieces of old beer pumps and stuck them on. We pulled out the cash register and decorated the set with all the most popular alcoholic beverages from the 1950s.’

The Savoy
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. The Savoy

‘Normally, you’d only be able to shoot between midnight and 5am, but because The Savoy wasn’t open, we had unprecedented access. We filmed in the hotel’s Princess Suite. 

The hotel era-less: it has these rich black and gold colours, and the reception and entrance feel so timeless. The back of the hotel is great too, with all those New York-style grandiose buildings and intricate alleyways. The streets were empty [during filming], which added something special to the feel of the scenes.

I’d love to come back for a sequel, but I doubt we could make a film like this again. Lockdown created the perfect storm to allow us into the heart of these empty locations. It was sheer luck, really.’

‘See How They Run’ is in UK cinemas Sep 9. Read our review here.

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