Deathtrap

The play starts as successful playwright Sidney Bruhl sits at his desk, where he has just finished a brilliant script. The only issue is that he’s finished reading the script. It’s not one he’s written!

He has received a script from a student he’d met on a writers’ course he’d given. Sidney’s jealousy about how good the script is palpable. The script is that of “Deathtrap”.

Sidney tells his wife Myra how great the play is, and a wicked plan is set in motion. We learn that Sidney has not had a hit in many years, and that Myra’s money had been keeping them going.

The Bruhls’ living room is one that any self respecting murder mystery playwright would be proud of, complete with typewriter on the antique desk, theatrical posters, a pair of handcuffs which we’re told belonged to Houdini…and a startling collection of guns, axes, swords, daggers and maces in pride of place displayed on the walls!

Sidney decides to invite Deathtrap’s novice playwright Clifford Anderson to the house, apparently to work together on developing the play…however we, the audience, realise something is afoot, when we hear Sidney making a big deal out of bringing the original script with him. This, in the days before email and e copies…!

Myra reluctantly goes along with Sidney’s wicked plan to pass the script off as his own. Add into the mix a neighbouring psychic, Helga ten Dorp, who shows up at the house just as a storm is brewing…and you have the perfect ingredients for a murder mystery!

Deathtrap was cleverly (and humorously) written by Ira Levin nearly 45 years ago. I first came across Deathtrap as a film, a clever three hander starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve. I saw it a long time ago though, and thankfully couldn’t remember the twists and turns of the clever plot…and you will get no spoilers from me. But it’s certainly layer upon layer of twists and plot turns! As we watch the action unfold, it’s hard to tell where reality and fiction starts and ends!

Sidney tells Myra (and us) that Deathtrap possesses, ‘One set. Five characters. A juicy murder in Act One, unexpected developments in Act Two. Sound construction, good dialogue, laughs in the right places.’ This production certainly does have all of those things. This is such a clever play within a play. It even refers to ‘dinner theatre’!

In fact no trip to this lovely theatre is complete without mention of the theatre itself, which is also a star of its own show…as ever.  The evening starts off with drinks in the lovely bar overlooking the massive mill wheel, before heading upstairs for some delicious food. It’s such a pretty setting and the food is so welcoming and delicious. 

So, onto the play itself. Sidney is played by Nick Waring who is on stage throughout as Sidney, and gives a masterful performance, veering from envy, to plotting, panic, to comedy and back to sheer wickedness.

George Watkins as Cllifford, is a very good match for Sidney, in lots of ways as the play develops. Emily Raymond as Myra also plays the conflicted, yet supportive, but equally scared and moralistic wife extremely well.

Issy Van Randwyck brings the comedic touch with psychic Helga, as does Philip Childs as Sidney and Myra’s lawyer, complete with a glance at his watch when he is ‘working’, and another glance when he’s just there to be sociable!

Tam Williams’ direction is just right. In fact to quote Sidney, “It can't miss. A gifted director couldn't even hurt it…”. Again, without giving anything away, there were moments when the audience certainly jumped!

I also want to make special mention of the sound design. The voices layered at the start of the play, as the lights went up, of theatre critics, expertly set the scene. That continued with the music and also the other sound effects.

The set design and props also get special mentions. This production, set in 1979, certainly has so many lovely details from that time, from the phone, to the furnishings and furniture.

This is a fun, clever, slice of murder mayhem from the team at the Mill at Sonning!

This show was reviewed on the 16th February and runs at The Mill at Sonning until the 30th March 2024.  Tickets available here: Mill at Sonning

Review written by Ruth Hawkins

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Photo credit: Andreas Lambis

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