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Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Ira Levin’s 1978 Deathtrap followed Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth in being a superior thriller masquerading as a charade. In the film, Michael Caine snogged Christopher Reeve, and director Matthew Warchus incorporates that one change into this accurate, tense but ultimately unsatisfactory revival. So, Simon Russell Beale now snogs Jonathan Groff and turns the piece into a not very convincing gay fantasy.

As an act of period restoration, this isn’t a patch on Warchus’ makeover of Boeing-Boeing with Mark Rylance. Russell Beale’s Sidney Bruhl, a once successful playwright with a severe case of writer’s block, is driven to ecstasies of jealousy by a script sent to him by Groff’s too-cute-to-be-true Clifford Anderson, whom he tutored on a writers’ course.

The artfully plotted script – Levin’s and their own – twists and turns through acts of murder, flashes of lightning and the comical intrusions of a flapping attorney (Terry Beaver) and a psychic visitor, Helga ten Dorp, played by a wonderfully nutty Estelle Parsons.

In the middle of it, Russell Beale projects a character in search of love and understanding, despite the crusty, poisonously witty exterior, that the play itself cannot sustain. In the end, it’s all just too silly, with an incomprehensible denouement and a suggestion that the whole process is about to start all over again.

Rob Howell has designed a magnificent converted stable of brick and beams, hung about with handcuffs, swords and pistols for Bruhl’s Connecticut retreat – why is Bruhl English, I wonder? – and Gary Yershon has composed a creepy sound score that ratchets up the atmosphere.

But apart from one big surprise in the first act, the brandishing of weaponry and sudden reversals are not all that chilling. And Claire Skinner, struggling with an American accent and trying to be eccentric, is miscast as the lady of the house, though it’s always a pleasure to see her.


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