Deathtrap has become so much one of the defining plays of the
thriller genre that it's hard to believe Peter Wilson's new
production is the first major tour ever mounted in the UK. Ira Levin's Tony Award winner ran for six years and also scored on the big screen, when Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon assumed the leads.
Here David Soul plays blocked playwright Sidney Bruhl who, after a string of smash-hit thrillers, is reduced to living off his wife Myra (Susan Penhaligon). Until, that is, one day when the perfect script drops through his door, care of eager young writer Clifford (Gerald Kyd.
If only Sidney could pass it off as his own, his prayers would be answered. And what better way to take ownership than by disposing of the real author as only a thriller writer would - by murdering him? But is Clifford that Sidney really wants dead? Or would his wealthy wife be a better target?
This tangled web of greed and deceit evolves into a play within a play with fantasy and reality blurring at the edges as Levin twists and turns. There's no "butler did it" premonitions here - the audience really is left guessing to the very last.
Soul, Kyd and Penhaligon interact with each other well and keep the stakes high throughout, not least thanks to Wilson's pacy direction. And the three are complemented by a wonderfully over-the-top cameo from Becky
Hindley as psychic neighbour Helga ten Dorp, who predicts the whole sorry
series of events - and provides most of the light-hearted moments to ease
Andrew Leigh's set displays some fine attention to detail - notably the brick
fireplace and "burning" fire, and the collection of weaponry so important to
the plot (what else would a thriller writer collect?). His lighting design is less effective - too often the characters disappear into unnecessary gloom. The video clips that separate the scenes do, however, provide a nice touch.
As master thrillers go, Deathtrap sits right up there with Dial M for Murder
and Sleuth and, 25 years down the line, it shows no sign of dating. At Norwich, it packed 'em in, and I confidently predict it will do similar
business right across the country.