Deathtrap ★★★★

The classic cat-and-mouse thriller Deathtrap is given a new lease of life (and death) at the Mill at Sonning

Ira Levin may have written the play Deathtrap 45 years ago but given that the plot is more twisty and turny than an Italian coastal road, it’s a crowd pleaser that’s always ripe for revival. With a small cast and a single set, it’s perfect fare for the always-enchanting Mill at Sonning. 

All images by Andreas Lambis
In his Connecticut home that is conveniently lined with an array of weapons on the walls, the hugely-successful thriller writer, Sidney Bruhl, is finding inspiration elusive. Unable to pen his next big hit and restore his reputation, he has taken to lecturing at seminars proving the adage that those who can, write, those who can’t teach.
When a script “Deathtrap” arrives in the mail, the now-struggling playwright immediately recognises it has all the hallmarks of a sure-fire theatrical smash.
When the play’s opening lines are Sidney commenting on the manuscript to his wife Myra – “A thriller in two acts. One set, five characters. A juicy murder in Act one, unexpected developments in Act two. Sound Construction, good dialogue, laughs in the right places. Highly commercial.” – you immediately realise that Ira Levin is good to deliver something highly meta!
Inviting the author to visit his home with – dramatic pause – the only copy!!! – gasp – the potboiler poses the question: what is Sidney prepared to do to be successful on Broadway again! And we really cannot disclose any more of the plot or we’ll spoil the many sneaky reversals and counter-reversals you have in store. 

There’s very little depth to Levin’s script but it has some ingenious thrills that you won’t see coming. As well as the deft plotting, you can tell that the playwright is having some fun taking pot shots at writers, plays, critics and Broadway. Pithy in-jokes – “It can’t miss. Even a gifted director couldn’t hurt it” – land satisfyingly at regular intervals. 

The cast are uniformly good. Nick Waring is a rock-solid lead as the once-successful writer, plotting his way back. Emily Raymond is believable as Sidney’s supportive wife. George Watkins impresses as first time writer Clifford Anderson. He has effortless charisma and plays the full range of his character’s arc with aplomb.

As she so often does, Issy Van Randwyck steals the show as Dutch psychic Helga ten Dorp who is living next door. She plays the eccentricity of Helga with a lightness of touch that means that while she is hilarious, the comic relief still doesn’t puncture the tension of the thriller. 

Credit must go to Michael Holt‘s wonderfully detailed set design. The eagle-eyed in the audience will notice that amongst the many posters of Sidney Bruhl’s Broadway thrillers, there is one for Death Rattle, the fictional show in Season Three of TV’s Only Murders in the Building. Which sort of sums up the playfulness of this production. 

Even the audience is included in the self-referential fun. A line about an idea not working “not even for dinner theatre” got a knowing murmur from the audience who indeed had just enjoyed dinner in the theatre’s restaurant.

Deathtrap is a deliciously devious divertissement that will keep you guessing while you perch on the edge of your seat!

Kill For a Ticket! – ★★★★ 4-stars

Deathtrap Tickets

Deathtrap runs at the Mill at Sonning until 30 March

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