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Theatre review: Deathtrap 
14th-Sep-2010 11:24 pm
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I'll try to keep this review vague because, like Ghost Stories down the road, Deathtrap comes with a request that the audience help keep the plot a secret. It also seems to be trying to get some of that show's audience by promoting itself as a bit of a frightfest; inaccurately, I thought. There's one "big shock" moment, which I say because of the response in other audience members, personally I found it pretty signposted, but this isn't really where the production's fun value lies. After successfully reviving the French farce with Boeing Boeing, the next unfashionable genre to catch director Matthew Warchus' eye is the 1970s stage thriller, and he keeps Ira Levin's play firmly in 1978 (apart from anything else, technological developments since then would have made a lot of the plot points hugely problematic.) As well as the imposing set covered in antique weapons, kudos to designer Rob Howell for evoking the period without resorting to overt '70s kitsch. At the opening, a playwright (Official National Treasure Simon Russell Beale) whose last hit is long-forgotten, has been sent a "perfect" script by a young unknown (Star Of Stage And Glee Jonathan Groff.) He jokes to his wife (Claire Skinner From Off Of TV's Outnumbered) that he should kill the young pretender and steal his play - but is he really joking? From this opening the plot twists back and around itself half a dozen times before we come to the end.

Levin's play is still great fun, very funny and knowing, endlessly self-referencing (Estelle Parsons' giddy psychic and Terry Beaver's lawyer, for example, are openly referred to in terms of what sort of function they perform in the play's structure) but in a tongue-in-cheek, rather than pretentious way. Warchus' big success though is in the two male leads, who hadn't met prior to being cast but work very well together - they have great chemistry and spark off each other perfectly, playing up the story's homoeroticism. (I've heard depressing reports of audiences reacting homophobically to one particular scene, but I'm happy to say this wasn't the case tonight; and frankly how anyone could fail to see it coming is a mystery to me.)

I usually take my mum to anything starring Official National Treasure Simon Russell Beale, but I thought this might be one she could actually convince my stepdad to take her to, so I went with Andy who'd never actually seen Official National Treasure Simon Russell Beale on stage before, and who wasn't disappointed. Skinner's American accent is a bit wobbly (ONTSRB doesn't bother doing one) and I thought she was a bit too young for one of the plot points to make that much sense, but overall this is hugely recommended as straightforward, unpretentious fun. Some of the reviews have been a bit sniffy, as they sometimes can be at unashamed crowd-pleasers (much as they can get rapturous about dull plays that'll make them seem intellectual if they claim to "get" them. What's that? A Disappearing Number is back in London?) but for an expertly done rollercoaster ride you can't go far wrong with this.

Deathtrap by Ira Levin is booking until the 22nd of January at the Noël Coward Theatre.
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