Theatre review: Deathtrap

Posted on: 14 September 2010 by Mark O'haire

Laurence Green reviews the wickedly funny satire Deathtrap at the Noel Coward Theatre.

A wickedly funny satire on the art of whodunnit is provided by American playwright Ira Levin in his twisty, self-reverential 1978 comedy thriller Deathtrap, which returns to the West End in Matthew Warchus’ new production at the Noel Coward Theatre.

The story centres on Sidney Bruhl, a middle-aged playwright suffering from writer’s block and in desperate need of a commercial hit. His brooding at not having a stage success for 18 years turns to burning resentment when Clifford Anderson, one of the students at the provincial college where he teaches, sends him a perfectly crafted thriller called Deathtrap. He invites the young upstart to his remote, weapon-filled Connecticut home requesting him to bring the only other copy of the play, with the excuse that it needs work and he will offer to collaborate. But Sidney and his wife Myra, however, are contemplating whether it is worth committing murder for a hit. This, though, is only the start of a series of plot twists that become more ingenious by the minute.

Levin’s extravagantly plotted script with its dark humour and shock-inducing moments creaks in part but always remains on the right side of credibility. Admittedly there are some longeurs in the second half but director Warchus has done a fine job in giving what many might consider a period piece a renewed lease of life and indeed imbuing it with great vitality complete with in-jokes about directors, critics and the mechanics of producing a commercial success.

But there is no denying that what makes this producing such a satisfying night in the theatre is the superb central performance by Simon Russell Beale as the bilious, washed-up playwright Sidney Bruhl. His sour delivery and great comic timing is a joy to behold and he makes the protagonist not so much a monster as a fascinating individual. Strong support is given by Claire Skinner as his put-upon wife Myra Jonathan Groff who plays the much-envied student Clifford Anderson with a certain genial charm, and Estelle Parsons as the Bruhl’s batty clairvoyant neighbour.

Indeed fiction becomes fact in his highly enjoyable revival which works as both a witty comedy and a suspense-laden thriller.

By Laurence Green

Where: Noel Coward Theatre, London

When: plays until 22 January

Box Office: 0844 482 5140

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