Deathtrap is a 1978 Ira Levin play that takes on the concept of what makes a play, a playwright, a thriller and a relationship work.
I’m always a fan of metatheatricality, and Connor Rowlett’s take on this classic piece of comedy-thriller-foolishness perfectly hit the spot for me, combining melodrama, jumpscares, spooky lighting, bad jokes and playception (like Inception but with plays) to make a suitably amusing production of what is ultimately a consideration of what it’s like to be a writer, but with a bit more murder.
Every writer’s greatest fear is that you’ll be surpassed by some newer, shinier writer – and this is the case for Will Batty’s Sidney Ruhl, who receives a play in the post from a former student of his, Clifford Anderson. The play is called Deathtrap – “oh my god, that’s this play!” says a tiny eejit that lives in my head and likes to make obvious comments – and seems tantalisingly appealing to Bruhl, stuck in the treacly pits of writer’s block. His wife, Myra (played to the best standard that Levin’s somewhat two-dimensional characterisation of Myra allows by the excellent Vee Tames) asks in a very subtle and not-at-all foreshadowing way whether Bruhl would kill for the sake of a play… Jonathan Iceton’s Clifford Anderson appears at the Bruhl household, which has a sort of cabin-in-the-woods vibe, after a phonecall from Sidney, supposedly for the sake of his agreeing to edit the play. Can you guess what happens next?
No, you cannot! Ha! There are many twists and turns, confused yet further with the semi-accurate predictions by Dutch psychic Helga ten Dorp (the wonderful Alayo Akinkugbe) who provides the most outright comic relief, and various unexpected occurrences. Ben Philipps’ understated wit works brilliantly in his portrayal of lawyer Porter Milgrim, whose description of “He’s sharp. Dull, but sharp,” by Sidney Bruhl is probably one of my favourite lines in the whole play.
I absolutely loved Lydia Roe’s set design.
Bruhl collects weapons, and likes to include them in his shows, so the walls of his study are decorated with posters of his own and others’ work, as well as a hefty collection of possible murder weapons, from crossbows to stiletto knives. The antique chairs, writing desk and fireplace specifically there to burn papers in (!!!) work perfectly, fitting the description of the play within a play that Clifford begins to write to a tee. I also really enjoyed Cat Salvini’s lighting design, especially in depicting the thunderstorm of the second half.
Honestly, my main criticism (beyond the fact that Ira Levin sees female characters as effectively supplementary to the action) is that Jonathan Iceton doesn’t seem to know how to keep a piece of paper upright in a typewriter. Honestly, the youth of today! But perhaps this was simply the fault of the typewriter, and if you’re not Tom Hanks* then this is hardly enough to mar your enjoyment of a wonderful performance.
*I acknowledge this is a slightly obscure reference. He wrote a book of short stories called Uncommon Type, collects typewriters and even has a little app called Hanx that allows you to turn your phone keyboard into a typewriter keyboard. Anyway, excuse the sad little tangent, go see Deathtrap or something.