It comes as no surprise that Ira Levin’s play Deathtrap is the longest running thriller on Broadway of all time. Presented by Darlinghurst Theatre Company, this well-oiled, two-act, one-setting play from the author of Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives delivers plenty of thrills and trills of laughter.
Acclaimed playwright Sidney Bruhl (Andrew McFarlane) is running dry on inspiration, until a promising script lands on his desk. Deathtrap — the perfect name for a perfect play — seems like a surefire hit with critics and audiences alike. Sidney lures the play’s young writer Clifford Anderson (Timothy Dashwood) to his Connecticut home to help workshop the script. But Sidney’s doting wife Myra (Sophie Gregg) fears her husband is harbouring darker motives. Could a man so accustomed to killing off characters with his pen commit such an unspeakable act in real life?
The murder and mayhem takes place in Sidney’s sunken floor living room, furnished in 1970s rural-chic from designer Michael Hankin. Casting a morbid shadow over the set—and the play in its entirety— is the wall of mounted daggers, battle-axes, pistols and clubs from Sidney’s previous plays.
“If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there,” Chekhov says about guns in the theatre. And bloody hell, Deathtrap has a whole lot of fun with this adage.
Just like the crossbow hanging on Sidney’s wall, Jo Turner’s direction hits all the right targets, slaying the audience with humorous one-liners and plot twists. It’s a play crammed with knowing winks and nudges, and the nod to the 1982 Michael Caine film of Deathtrap is a cheeky addition.
Despite his lacklustre New England accent, McFarlane delivers a likeable turn as the cynical egomaniac Sidney. We’re warned of Sidney’s Machiavellian streak in his entrance on stage in profile, in a haze of strobe lighting by Verity Hampson. It’s a pity that McFarlane’s final speech lacks the fiery conviction we’d hope to justify Sidney’s actions, but instead he ends with an unsatisfying whimper.
Sophie Gregg’s Myra is a match for McFarlane and keeps the melodrama in check, while the excellent Timothy Dashwood masters the accent and the typewriter too, fervently pecking away at the keys of his Smith-Corona like an old pro.
This cast of killer characters is rounded off by Georgina Symes’s histrionic performance as Dutch psychic Helga Ten Dorp (complete with flailing arms and jangly accessories) and Drew Fairley’s sensible portrait of lawyer Porter Milgrim.
It’s not a particularly challenging or daring piece of theatre but there’s much to take away about fidelity, sexuality and the lengths we go for a shot at success. In such a self-reflexive work it’s only a matter of time before the audience turns their attention inwards. Why, I asked myself, was I howling with laughter as a character was slain mere metres from my seat? The horror-cum-comedy score from Marty Jamieson undoubtedly helps ease the audience into an atmosphere of comical foreboding.
Levin’s finely tuned script is a winner in any set of capable hands, and Turner provides an accessible, fun and farcical night of theatre.
If your blood lust still isn’t satisfied after the show, cap off the night at the Eternity Playhouse bar with a “Bloody Myra”— a deathly delicious twist on the Bloody Mary (and thankfully, there’s no blood to mop up afterwards).
Until May 10 at the Eternity Playhouse: darlinghursttheatre.com/whats-on/deathtrap