New whodunnit Deathtrap will have audiences on edge

MURDER mysteries are so few and far between in the West End these days, revamped 1970s hit Deathtrap sold itself as a novel night out.

The Ira Levin penned play, set entirely in a renowned playwright’s sweeping Connecticut barn conversion, isn’t your run-of-the-mill whodunnit though.

Sidney Bruhl, played by the magnificent Simon Russell Beale, has come down with a bad case of writer’s block.

His glory days of constructing meandering murder mysteries are long behind him and he’s on the lookout for a lifeline.

Along comes strapping amateur playwright Clifford Anderson(Jonathan Groff), who unknowingly turns up with a debut so slick his former mentor Bruhl considers killing to get his hands on it and claim it as his own.

Bruhl’s whimpering American wife Myra (Claire Skinner) tries to act as a mediator, terrified her desperate husband will carry out his sinister plan.

But what I’ve just told you is a simplified introduction to this play of sudden leaps and shocks, changes of direction and bolts from the blue.

Most Read

While all the twists are amusing enough – and I defy even the theatre-goer with nerves of steel not to jump a foot in the air at the most unexpected ones – this play perceives itself to be a touch cleverer than it actually is.

The surprise element becomes tedious when the script deviates from the sharp, witty play on words it embraced in its opening dialogue.

With the self-reflective subject matter of a play within a play, it fancies itself to be one step above the audience member.

The problem is some of the twists are so tenuous, you really could care less which direction they take.

But a strong cast, led by Russell Beale, who straddles the line between the Machiavellian and comical perfectly, allow the flaws to be brushed over somewhat.

Deathtrap is entertaining – and with all the antique weaponry which adorns the Bruhls’ historic home, visually pleasing too – but don’t expect to care too much where the plot ends up.

Deathtrap runs at the Noel Coward Theatre, in St Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden until January 22.

Call 0870 850 9175 for tickets.