Deathtrap – Cheltenham Everyman REVIEW
One set. Two acts. Five characters. Enough jump scares to give the entire audience a cardiac arrest.
Deathtrap is broadway’s longest running play, and without a doubt Ira Levin’s clever writing has carved its path into the history books. It’s not the easiest plot to summarise so bear with me… When Sidney Bruhl is sent a script that sends him into a fit of despair that he will never write something as good, he starts to scheme about inviting the playwright over, murdering him and stealing the play for his own. Things don’t exactly turn out as planned…
This play within a play is jam packed of plot twists, uncomfortable laughter and palm sweat inducing tension. The ‘tickle slap’ style humour of making you laugh and then having a dark moment immediately after is enough to make you shift uncomfortably in your seat. Team this was a big focus on jump scares and you’ve got a play unsuitable for those with a nervous disposition. I managed to lose my plus one during the interval as the jump scares were so brutal! Just as well as the second half was so much more intense.
In contrast to this the dialogue was a little dry in places and some scenes felt a little unloved. This may have been due to some questionable American accents from the two leads who have made their names on long running soap operas such as Eastenders and Holby City. The chemistry between the two main characters, Sidney Bruhl, played by Paul Bradley and his wife Myra, played by Jessie Wallace, was somewhere between awkward to non existent. They just didn’t seem like they had been married for years, even if they were now despising each other. Sadly we don’t see much of uneasy Myra but I feel from the start she was upstaged by Bradley’s energetic (therefore rather sweaty) and brash caricature of the failing playwright.
Other three characters consisted of Sam Phillips, playing young aspiring playwright Clifford Anderson, Beverly Klein as the comedic foreign psychic, Helga ten Dorp and Julien Ball as the friendly lawyer. Phillips gay relationship with Bradley seems a little over the top and a lack of chemistry during a forced kiss created embarrassed laughter from the audience. Klein pushed her character’s eccentric streak to the maximum adding some simple minded comedy to a frankly quite dark play.
The entire play was set in one room of a gorgeous old colonial building in the forest, with low wooden beams and a wood burner. The beautiful scenery splashed with old movie posters and weapons from murder mysteries which often came in handy during the play. So for a one set play I wasn’t entirely sure that they needed a screen to come down in between each scene and play clips of old mystery movies such as Dial M for Murder and Sleuth. It seemed a little unnecessary and stopped the plot’s flow.
This play may not win for showstopping acting and a powerful direction but it did well to achieve its goal of making everybody leap a foot in the air at each dark moment and revel in the unknown as clever layers of plot twists unfolded themselves.