Printable CopyDEATHTRAP
Therry Dramatic Society
The Arts Theatre
Until 29 Mar 2014

Review by Benjamin Orchard

The original 70s production of Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” holds the record for being the longest running non-musical comedy-thriller in Broadway history (around four years), and to judge from Therry’s solid production, it’s not hard to see why. Though some of the pop culture references and technological devices have dated, the diabolical twists and turns in Levin’s plot were still capable of eliciting widespread, loudly audible gasps from the audience on opening night and the dry, darkly sarcastic witticisms scattered throughout provoked many a hearty chuckle.

“Deathtrap” is the kind of meticulously plotted, tightly wound thriller that is difficult to describe without giving away its various delicious surprises, but the basic setup is this… Sidney (Matthew Randell) is a once successful playwright, distinguished for a series of mystery plays he wrote back in the glory days of his youth, who finds success has eluded him in middle age. Reeling from a costly flop, suffering from a bad case of writer’s block and unhappy in his marriage to Myra (Sue Wylie), he finds himself reduced to hosting writing seminars to get by. Sidney tells Myra how one of his students, Clifford (James Edwards), has written a script that is sure to be a hit. The couple joke about how easy it would be to murder the young writer and plagiarise his work, just like one of the characters in Sidney’s old mystery plays. When Clifford stops by for a drink and a chat with his mentor, the cogs start turning in Sidney’s devious mind, but is his young protégé really the clueless ingénue he first appears to be? Much nefarious scheming and vicious skulduggery ensues, which is somewhat complicated by the intrusive presence of nosy celebrity psychic, Helga (Lindy LeCornu) and Myra’s lawyer, Porter (Tim Taylor).

With such a small cast, it is crucial that the actors have excellent chemistry and this is certainly the case with Therry’s production. Randell and Wylie play off each other well, with some subtle hints of jaded affection lurking beneath the petty, largely argumentative surface of their dialogue. Edwards brings just the right measure of fanboyish enthusiasm and youthful arrogance to his relations with both characters, keeping the audience guessing as to who is manipulating who in this scenario. The American accents of all three actors are a bit shaky at times, perhaps this can be chalked up to first night nerves, but they do such a wonderful job of tapping into the emotional core of these characters, that such minor slip ups aren’t a big deal, especially when Randell and Edwards invest such impassioned physicality into their characterisation.

LeCornu and Taylor play the comic relief with delectable, juicy hammery, effortlessly stealing scenes with their exaggerated accents and deliberately larger-than-life mannerisms. That said, the script does provide both actors with odd moments hinting that their somewhat buffoonish outward appearance hides a keener intelligence, the two actors make the most of these, adding greatly to the suspense of proceedings in the process.

Director, Ian Rigney, wisely makes no attempt to contemporise the play, accommodating the dated aspects of the script by framing the production as a period piece. Vincent Eustace’s set design and the costumes, which Rigney conceived with Heather Beasley, are nicely evocative of the tackier aspects of the 70s, but without crossing the line into outright caricature. The production is also to be praised for Denise Lovick’s tasteful, atmospheric lighting design.

This “Deathtrap” may not be a groundbreaking or innovative production, but when a piece of theatre is pulled off with as much panache as this, it doesn’t really need to be. The level of applause from the audience come the final curtain call was rapturous, and really, that says everything. For anyone who appreciates a good thriller, Therry’s “Deathtrap” is definitely worth seeing.