Review – Ira Levin’s Deathtrap

May 16 2013 | By More

★★★☆☆    A twist of meta-dunnit

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 15-Sat 18 May 2013
Review by Thom Dibdin

Cutting like a honed knife, Ira Levin’s murder thriller is as intense and satisfyingly tricky as it ever was when it was written in the late seventies.

Deathtrap aspires to be the perfect two act thriller, as its own circling, self-aware script boasts at the outset. It has the right ingredients: one set, five characters, a juicy murder in the first act, plenty of twists in the second and enough comedy throughout to keep it light.

Matthew Thomson, Pat Hymers and Jennie Davidson. Pic: Marion Donohoe

And the play delivers on the promise, even though its knowing post-modern deconstruction is not as trendy as once it was. So too, for the most part, does Leitheatre under the direction of Rosalind Becroft.

Pat Hymers stars as Sidney Bruhl, a playwright of genre thrillers. He has a clutch of classic plays in his back-catalogue, witnessed in the original play bills which adorn the walls of his study, but he hasn’t written a hit for years – or even a word worth keeping since the previous August.

He and his wife Myra are dependent on her inheritance. Not a situation which makes him happy, but one which Jennie Davidson’s Myra is obviously willing to live with. For the moment at least, until he succeeds in writing the hit which she, as a good and supportive wife, is sure he will. Given a bit of time.

Wherein lies the rub. The hit is clearly not coming, so when Clifford Anderson (Matthew Thomson), a starry-eyed student on one of his summer schools, sends him what looks like the perfect script, the wheels start turning. Even more so when he turns up with the only other copy of the script.

You can see that a lifetime of making up murder situations is only helping Clifford frame a new one. A situation in which the young writer will not feature to his own advantage. And in which his script will end up being credited to Bruhl.

If Hymers is a bit hesitant as Clifford – there’s a bluster to his manner that could mask a multitude of minor lapses from the script – he certainly makes his Sidney believable. Here is the tired, failing elder man, frightened of the young things coming up on the inside – and desperate to cling on to what they have.

Bright and articulate with just the right amount of awe

Davidson, in keeping with her character’s sensible nature, has a real direction to her. Even more so as the enormity of what her husband is intending to do begins to sink in. And it is the sheer (maybe a tad mundane) believability to the couple that sets this off on such a strong start – even when technical aspects such as accents might waver.

Derek Blackwood’s set for Leitheatre’s 2013 production of Deathtrap at Church Hill Theatre. Pic: Marion Donohoe

Thomson only makes things better when he appears. His Clifford is bright and articulate with just the right amount of awe of the elder man and his success.

The comedy of the piece is the only thing of the play which hasn’t survived as well. Lynn Morris plays busybody Dutch psychic Helga ten Dorp, who has taken the house next door. The basic comedy of the character has not carried over from an era when Uri Geller’s spoon bending was the rage.

Morris plays Helga relatively straight which, while it is a relief when the part could be horribly overplayed, leaves the requisite comedy a little flat. Helga ten Dorp needs more body to her, as a character, a bit more thrust.

On the other hand, Alan Richardson’s account of the Bruhl’s friend, Porter Milgrim, is suitably straight. His role, as the twists and exaggerations mount in what eventually turns into a meta-dunnit, is simple and carried out with effect.

Becroft’s direction keeps the whole production on track through all the turns. The only place where the company needs more attention is when it comes to more physical elements and stage combat, which don’t feel at all comfortable.

Derek Blackwood’s wide and well-appointed set easily fits its purpose.

An entertaining production which works well on its own terms.

Run ends Saturday
Running time 2 hrs 30 mins.
Church Hill Theatre, Wed 15 – Sat 18 May, 7.30pm.
Details on Leitheatre website:


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  1. Danny Cutting says:

    Congratulations to all….and especially to Rosalind Becroft for directing.