When Sidney Bruhl, a washed-up writer of stage thrillers, receives a killer script from unknown young playwright Clifford Anderson, Bruhl gets an idea – to kill Anderson and pass this new play off as his own work.
Bruhl’s wife Myra is horrified. Surely it’s a joke. But when Bruhl invites the young man to their remote New England home, she fears there’s going to be a real murder.
So begins Deathtrap, which opened at the New Theatre tonight (Tuesday 10 October), Ira Levin’s classic thriller, with more twists and turns than the earthworms in Sidney’s easily-dug vegetable patch.
With its layers of stories within stories and deceptions within deceptions, it knowingly references other plays, and itself as a play. And what a joy between each scene to be treated to clips from classic movie thrillers, such as Gaslight, Dial M for Murder, and Sleuth.
It must be 30 years since I last saw Deathtrap on stage, and there was also the satisfying film version with Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon. It certainly has staying power, and remains the longest-running thriller on Broadway.
This latest production, directed by Adam Penford – the newly-appointed artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse – delivers plenty of shocks, but there are laughs too: as fresh as the day they were tapped out on the typewriter of the great Ira Levin, who also gave us Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, and The Boys From Brazil.
Typewriters are significant here, as are landline phones, and carbon copies, because the plot depends on the story being set in the 1970s or ’80s. Today, any playwright would have saved a copy of their script on the cloud, and none of this could have happened. Which would be a great shame.
Deathtrap stars Paul Bradley (Holby City), gliding from wise-cracking confidence to sweaty desperation as Sidney, Sam Phillips as star-struck Clifford, in awe at the master craftsman, and Jessie Wallace (EastEnders) as Myra, whose anxiety levels rise off the scale before our eyes.
The cast is completed by Beverly Klein, gloriously over-the-top as Swedish clairvoyant Helga ten Dorp and Julien Ball as Sidney’s strait-laced lawyer, who may have his own hidden secrets.
If you want a thriller with surprises, jokes, and some out-and-out shocks, Deathtrap is for you. It plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre until Saturday (14 October). Tickets are available from newtheatrecardiff.co.uk or by calling 029 2087 8889.
Review by Andrew Weltch