Playwrights are like puppeteers – they create through manufacturing then manoeuvring things and by pulling strings. Ira Levin's 1978 thriller Deathtrap lays an extreme of the process bare. What would drive a writer of murder-mystery plays to commit murder?
This new production for the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch by Matt Devitt (who also plays Sidney Bruhl) and Simon Jessop (who is lawyer Porter Milgrim) concludes a hat-trick of stagings of the play in South-East England and East Anglia this year.
There's a touch of existentialism about Norman Coates's excellent set, which suits the play. Devitt is a very fine Bruhl, so chubbily cheery on the outside, so warped and dangerous under the veneer. In this story it is Myra, Bruhl's wife, who has the money which maintains their lifestyle; Anna Skye makes her sympathetic as well as vulnerable.
The serpent in this apparent Eden is aspiring playwright Clifford Anderson. Elliot Harper gives him credibility – this young man whose life has been transformed when he attends one of Bruhl's seminars (it's enough to put one off creative writing courses for life). Harper and Devitt match each other as the tension mounts.
If you know the play from previous productions, you don't need me to elaborate further on the plot. If you haven't see it before, then this is the right spooky time of year to do so. But be warned – Deathtrap is violent as well as clever, as its title suggests.