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Playwright Sidney Bruhl (Simon Russell Beale) hasn’t written a hit play for years.
When a student sends him an excellent script for a new comic thriller called (funnily enough) Deathtrap, Sidney and his nervy wife Myra joke about killing the young upstart and claiming the play, and the money it’s sure to make, for themselves.
That’s really all I can reveal about the plot of the twisty, pacy, comic thriller Deathtrap which opened in the West End this week. Anything more, and I’d be giving the game away. Although, I can say it’ll make you laugh.
And it’ll definitely make you jump.
Deathtrap takes place in Sidney’s study; a room you’ll instantly spot is littered with potential weapons. Designer Rob Howell’s impressive set is a murderer’s dream: curtains over doors, a spooky staircase leads upstairs, and there’s a slight feeling that there’s nowhere to hide… The constant references to the fact that the house is in the middle of nowhere just enhance the tension.
Russell Beale plays the ageing playwright Sidney with a suitably self-loathing air. In contrast, Jonathan Groff’s naive but precocious young writer, Cliff, really sparkles with irritating confidence. (Glee fans will be pleased to hear there’s more than a little of Jesse St James in this, Groff’s West End debut: the same smarmy insincerity, as well as those sudden flashes of buried, manic anger…)
Less convincing is Estelle Parsons as batty psychic neighbour Helga ten Dorp. The constant references to the fact that she’s a funny character only serve to highlight that she’s not, and her final summing up of the play in the last act felt like a real waste of time.
But if you like comic, knowing, self-referential melodrama, with an element of the thriller and a touch of silliness mixed in, you’ll love Ira Levin’s witty play. And it’ll probably have you double checking you’ve locked the back door at night…