Review / More twists than Houdini – ‘Deathtrap’

“Deathtrap” by Ira Levin, Directed by Kim Wilson, for Tempo Theatre, At Belconnen Theatre until May 28. Reviewed by Helen Musa

THIS classic comedy-thriller has more complications in it than any Agatha Christie, and presumably that’s why Tempo Theatre and director Kim Wilson decided to take it on.

Paul Jackson as Sidney  'strangles' Sam Kentish as Clifford in Act I.

Paul Jackson as Sidney
‘strangles’ Sam Kentish as Clifford in Act I.

Structured as a play with many plays inside it, it’s one of those theatrical pieces about the theatre craft itself, leading to many in-jokes, well appreciated by a keen audience.

In Act I we meet Sidney Bruhl, a clapped-out Broadway playwright who was probably never all that good but who is the master of the sophisticated wisecrack and theories about playwriting. Sidney says the best plot has five characters (this play has five characters). He teaches his pupils the concept of peripateia, the ancient Greek device of reversal, but that comes back to bite him. Paul Jackson, though sustaining the evening as this central character, plays him a little too quietly for the lines he is given.

Sally Willings plays his wife Myra quietly too, effectively delineating the character as supportive but increasingly fearful of Sidney’s desperation.

The love interest of the play is not to do with the marriage but with Clifford, the attractive young man Sidney has picked up at a summer playwriting school and who now appears at the Bruhls’ inevitable isolated country home with a new script destined to succeed.

Clifford is performed, softly at first but with increasing menace, by Sam Kentish, although the homosexual relationship between Sidney and Sam was covered in a distant, emotional and almost coy way by both actors.

Together the duo bring off an elaborate charade that causes Myra have a fatal heart attack (at last, a ‘real’ death on stage), but not before a visit from neighbouring psychic Helga ten Dorp, expert at sniffing out murders. Margi Sainsbury takes on this role, in a tour de force performance that lifts the pace into the realm of the deadly comedy for which playwright Levin is known.

The pace picks up in Act II, with more twists than Houdini could have wriggled oput of and an ending where Helga and the family lawyer Porter (Tony Cheshire) appear to be wrapping up the various murders but which actually involves a quadruple twist of such complexity that, even though I’d seen both the film and the play before, defied recollection.

The show should go well for Tempo, with a colourful set by Wilson and Jon Elphick, performances that could have been taken a bit further over the top and no lack of lethal surprises.

 

 

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