Buhl and Myra

Paul Bradley as Sidney Buhl and Jessie Wallace as wife, Myra


The New Alexandra Theatre


It’s coming up to nearly forty years now since Ira Levin crafted his twisting murder thriller Deathtrap into a production that still holds the record for the longest running comedy thriller on Broadway.

It was original in that there is no master detective to unravel the crime so we, the audience are the willing witnesses to the action . However in this play within a play, that uses itself as a plot for the play the characters are writing, all is not as it appears .

In an effort to update the work and give it some kind of modern impact the director has added video clips of films like Sleuth and Gaslight to cover scene changes which were distractions and at times seemed like we were being, unnecessarily, educated as to what a murder mystery was.

It also has the negative effect of presenting some very famous faces and powerful acting to compare with what was happening on stage.

Sidney Buhl is a middle-aged playwright financially and creatively starved of a hit with his last big success being 18 years ago. A young writer submits a new work to him and greed takes over as he hatches a plot to murder him and take the work as his own.

His wife however is unaware of his real intentions and once the young writer arrives there are more twists, turns, exits and entrances than Spaghetti Junction.

Paul Bradley’s take on playwright Bruhl was entertaining but seemed a little wooden when committing fully to the several physical fight scenes. A few unfortunate prop errors meant his portrayal as the killer was unfortunately unconvincing, wrapping the garrotte of his victim around his chin only for the handle to fall off in the struggle. otherwise his performance was succinct and entertaining and could be forgive when his US accent slipped a little into mid Atlantic.

Sam Phillips played Clifford, Bruhl’s young protégé and was convincing throughout Thankfully he delivered a more manic attitude to his acts of murder and made his attempts far scarier and chilling to watch. For some reason he part disrobes on stage and it’s not clear if this was a direction from the original or a reason to display his physique as an addition to add some spice to what’s turns out to be a gay relationship.

Any actress playing Myra, Bruhl’s unfortunate wife, has an easy time of it in terms of time, being reduced to something of support actor in this web of deceits and red herrings. EastEnders Jessie Wallace showed her range, ditching her cockney twang for a solid American accent. Perhaps looking a little too glamourous as an opposite to the dishevelled Brul, she was most convincing when trying to get her husband to take the young Clifford under his experienced writing wing.

Julien Ball cut a dashing figure as Porter, Bruhl’s lawyer, and although critical to revealing some of the plots and opening the unfolding suspicions he seemed politely removed from his clients supposed depression at the turmoil and loss in his life.

With no clever detective in the play to find out whodunnit it comes down to the wild Helga ten Dorp, Bruhl’s physic neighbour , to describe the goings on in the household.

Having seen several people play her in the past productions, Beverly Klein was one of the better ones. Balancing her energy and comic timing to build a performance that was clearly written for laughs yet without going too over the top.

The question remains though, that as she recounts the minute details of the plot in the closing scene, that if she was that good , why didn’t she see it all on her first visit weeks before? Putting that aside she made a great impact in her role.

There were some nice musical additions adding to the mystery of plot and tension to the murder scenes, but the effects were far too loud at times. Be aware that these shock you when they come and seemed contrived and unnecessary to add impact to what is a very creative and well written play.

While the set looked very effective with its wooden beams and moody lighting it was hard to get any intimacy into the performance and a fair amount of the dialogue was lost when the actors were wandering around in its vastness.

Deathtrap remains an entertaining piece of theatre and even if you know the outcome you still enjoy the revelation of the many twists and turn. The casting of these well-known TV celebrities was obviously a major pull for the audience and although capable, the performances were not quite up to the quality of the writing on the night.

There is skill, subtlety and inventiveness in the plot but, unfortunately, here the over the top jumpy sound effects and additional video projection were aimed at making it an experience rather than a play. To 11-11-17

Jeff Grant


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