Deathtrap – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Writer: Ira Levin

Director: Adam Penford

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Death doesn’t quite become this interpretation of Ira Levin’s Broadway blockbuster. Perhaps crime, shifting tides and times wait for no man or woman. Once prolific thriller playwright Sidney Bruhl (Paul Bradley) is facing writer’s block. He receives an unsolicited play-script from an admiring ex-student entitled Deathtrap; it is brilliant. Sidney shares alternative dark plot hypotheses with his fractious wife Myra (Jessie Wallace). Why not invite this tyro-dynamo usurper for a read-through? Who knows what might unfold?

Wholesome admirer, Clifford Anderson (Sam Phillips) has told no-one of his debut crème de la crime potential Broadway killer thriller or that he is visiting them. ‘This play’s to die for’ Sydney tells Clifford. Somebody’s going to. And who’s to know whodunnit? Just a play within a play he suggestively toys with Myra. A miscellany of souvenir research weapon artefacts adorns their comfortable faux timber-beam barn conversion abode. Clifford is invited to handle them – suggestions of potential finger-print incriminations? Devious self-referencing crime-genre decoys and false trail teaser potentials abound.

Scene transitions feature projected comic-strip format screen-clips from Dial M For Murder and Gaslight. Will this be a night of the long knives in the back, smoking guns and a garrotte of laughs? Not quite. The red-herrings are already beginning to have an ominous whiff of past-shelf death decay. What promises to be a white-knuckle ride of roller-coaster suspense feels more like a zimmer-frame struggle down a rose-tinted amnesia lane of Cluedo glue.

At one point Sidney likens the unfolding mayhem to ‘kinetic inversion’ – putting the cart before the horse. More like a pantomime ass that’s lost its head and is left with a farcical arse. This production’s dénouement reveal can be more likened to a Trojan Horse stuffed with a belly-full of gaffes. It’s difficult to spoil what is already spoilt. What should bristle with guile and wily sleuth with a plot that aims to spiral so slyly it leaves you giddier than a sack of serpents in a centrifuge is left wanting. A Deathtrap indeed – mind your step.

Runs until 11 November 2017 | Image: Contributed

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Cheesier than The Mousetrap

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