Theatre Review: Deathtrap @ the Noel Coward Theatre

By Zoe Craig Last edited 100 months ago
Theatre Review: Deathtrap @ the Noel Coward Theatre

Deathtrap: a kitsch, silly comic thriller that's nothing like this image suggests
"What's the point in having a mace if you don't get the chance to use it?" asks Simon Russell Beale, almost winking at the audience, early on in Ira Levin's 1978 play, Deathtrap.

It's just one of many self-referential prods peppering this comic thriller, whose jibes take in everything from script-writing, critics, producers, directors and more.

It's also a far cry from the viral trailer that's been all over the internet in the run up to this week's opening, or the flashy website for the show. Don't get us wrong, Deathtrap is fun. But it's nothing like the movie-like, slick promos you might've seen for the play online.

Deathtrap is really, surprisingly, kitsch.

Prowling a set similar to the Lodge Bar at On Anon littered with weapons, is playwright Sidney Bruhl (Russell Beale). He's been successful in the past, but he hasn't come up with a decent play for 18 years. Then a young student, Clifford Anderson, sends him a script called Deathtrap: it's perfect, a sure-fire hit. Sidney and his scaredy-cat wife Myra joke about killing the kid, and claiming the play for themselves. They invite Clifford over to their remote country house, requesting he brings the original script with him.

It's a nice set-up for a thriller, you might think. (If you weren't sure, they'll tell you that it is, more than once, from the stage.)

From there, the plot twists more than we can possibly describe here. Be prepared to jump: that's all we'll say.

Russell Beale is wonderful to watch. His comic timing here is sniper-precise, and he moves from baleful wash-out to a potentially murderous modern Macbeth without losing any of his charm. Jonathan Groff plays the young upstart Clifford much the same as he plays Jesse St James in Glee, all doe-eyed, hand-hugging-opposite-elbow, pseudo-innocence, with a sudden scary touch of flinty determination when the situation suits.

But despite the pair's immense likeableness, there's something a little too knowing about their performances. And the play suffers from something like smugness when the plot twists away from our expectations *again*.

"Nothing recedes like success," says Sidney, lamenting his decline. Years ago, the West End was littered with comic thrillers; now only the Mousetrap and The Woman in Black remain. In the age of slick TV like Sherlock, Psychoville and the like, we don't think you should hold your breath for a theatrical thriller revival just yet.

Deathtrap plays at the Noel Coward Theatre until 22 January. Visit for tickets. But don't go expecting something like that picture above.

Last Updated 09 September 2010