Deathtrap opens to an intimidating yet domestic set featuring battle axes, crossbows and pistols mounted on the walls. From this moment on an unwavering atmosphere of both humour and terror is sustained, truly breathing new life into the classic dark comedy thriller.
Lewis Howden captures the sinister spirit of the darkly humorous playwright Sydney Bruhl from the opening moments. However, his American drawl is shaky and questionable to begin with and he lacks some of the energy Emily Winter, playing Sidney’s wife Myra, displays from the outset. This initial uneasiness is soon forgotten as the two expertly weave through dialogue that is at once witty and tense, creating a convincing marital relationship tinged with the threat of violence.
The entire cast offer well-developed, interesting and complex performances, navigating the myriad of twists and turns expertly while managing to keep the constantly developing emotions fresh and believable. Howden and Tom England, playing the young, ambitious playwright Clifford Anderson are particularly strong and build tension to dizzying climaxes at multiple points throughout the show. This occurs most notably during the second act where their skilful back and forth and rapport perfectly evokes the genre-bending themes of the play and constantly raises the question of who is the victim and who is the villain. Irene MacDougall is especially impressive in the role of Helga Den Topp, delivering every line with perfect tone and timing, drawing huge laughs from the audience.
The single set of Bruhl’s study, decked out in matte grey with striking reds never feels restrictive or monotonous, with the multitude of props and the use of quick paced music and dramatic blue and red lighting perfectly reflecting the action on stage and the turbulent emotions of the characters. The violence in the play is also dealt with incredibly well, providing just enough blood to elicit shock without veering into uncomfortable gore. There is a technical error near the end of the first act where music is played too early and gives away the surprise return of a character. This shakes the effectiveness of the important moment. However, the actors rise to the occasion and work through this issue.
Deathtrap is an incredibly well structured, acted and staged play that constantly raises questions and keeps the momentum of fear and humour rolling over the entire run time.