Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
The cast includes Jessie Wallace and Paul Bradley, both well known from EastEnders and other television shows, as well as on the stage. Bradley plays the would-be murderer with gusto and a shambling humour that allows his comic potential full rein. Jessie Wallace is sadly under-used in her undemanding role (we remember her as Marie Lloyd and other vivacious characters on stage and screen). The star performance is by Beverley Klein as Helga Ten Dorp, the neighbour whose clairvoyant skill both reveals and muddies the plot at various moments throughout. Her over-the-top caricature had the audience rocking with laughter. Sam Phillips portrayed the young writer in all his suspicious innocence and Julien Ball completed the cast of five as an unimaginative lawyer.
The direction is excellent. The static setting of the Bruhls’ living room caused criticism of the cinema adaptation by Sidney Lumet (1982 starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve). Here on the stage, scene transitions are enlivened by minute-long showings of relevant movie clips from classic crime thrillers, which also serve to keep the audience second-guessing the play’s plot.
Ira Levin also wrote Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives. No wonder that the writer Stephen King is a number-one fan of his works. Levin’s achievement is to create suspense, horror and humour all at once, with clever, intelligent psychological writing, but a minimum of gore or physical violence.
Deathtrap is a masterpiece of audience misdirection. It’s a psychological rollercoaster that keeps its pace and humour right to the last minute. Second-guessed and wrong-footed, we gasped and laughed through the evening and emerged into the real world the richer for having been immersed in this fantasy.
This review also appears in the online magazine Essential Surrey.