by Ira Levin.
Noel Coward Theatre St Martin’s Lane WC2N 4AU.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5140.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 September.
When vinyl recordings were transferred to CD the even higher fidelity meant unwanted sounds – squeaks and creaks included – became newly audible. It’s something that comes to mind with this revival of Ira Levin’s fiendishly involved 1978 Deathtrap.
For Sidney Bruell, living off his past theatre thrillers and his weak-hearted wife’s money in a converted Connecticut stable setting, its walls covered with implements of crime, is played as an Englishman abroad by Simon Russell Beale, an actor who swims in irony and excels in silent moments where thoughts and responses take shape.
His performances illuminate the character he’s playing, and radiate ironic implications into the scene around. But it’s the opposite of the mercurial mind that hurries instants along; and slowing down means more can be taken in. With Shakespeare or Chekhov that’s all to the good; but though Levin reflects on the nature and processes of thrillers, the light shed on his own doesn’t always point to strengths.
Yet it’s considerably superior to most post-Sleuth thrillers, where a motive, a murder and a revelation are no longer enough – there have to be multiple levels so that what you first see is a lot less than what you ultimately get. Here, the action’s very much a games-playing of two halves.
Levin’s ready for that, with lines about how the second act will fare after an opener where tension and sudden shocks combine. This is the act about the first, putative, play-within-the-play ‘Deathtrap’. It’s a title that appears, hammered out by typewriter keys before being obliterated, the hammering amplified to gunshot level. Through Gary Yershon’s score and Simon Baker’s sound effects, and through the steady build of tension, incorporating shock moments to make the audience scream and leap, director Matthew Warchus plays fair with thriller expectations.
But Warchus’ integral clarity shows that, post-interval, Levin does little beyond repeat similar motifs and motives in new guises. The audience feels puzzled but more in control, and the clarity of everything pushes events towards comedy. Still, the first act remains terrific and terrifying, the whole thing done as well as is ever likely.
Sidney Bruhl: Simon Russell Beale.
Myra Bruhl: Claire Skinner.
Clifford Aderson: Jonathan Grofff.
Helga ten Dorp: Estelle Parsons.
Porter Milgrim: Terry Beaver.
Director: Maatthew Warchus.
Designer: Rob Howell.
Lighting: Hugh Vanstone.
Sound: Simon Baker.
Music: Gary Yershon.
Associate director: Annabel Bolton.
Assistant director: Jake Brunger.