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Death Trap

by on 15 November 2017

Slick and Classy Classic

Death Trap

by Ira Levin

Salisbury Playhouse and TBO Productions at Richmond Theatre until 18th November

Review by Eleanor Marsh

Stephen King said of Ira Levin, “ [He is] . . .  the Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels, he makes what the rest of us do look like cheap watchmakers in drugstores”.  If he should be in the audience at Richmond Theatre this week during the run of Deathtrap, I don’t doubt he would say the same of Levin’s playwriting skills.  The play starts as it means to go on – the first night audience jumped out of their seats before the curtain went up and Adam Penford’s production never lets the level of suspense or shock value drop throughout the entire play.  This production, originating at the Salisbury Playhouse, hits its target perfectly. An ideal, highly accessible vehicle to tour the provinces, Deathtrap is just three months short of the 40th anniversary of its opening and this outing has excellent production values and performances throughout.


A vast amount of attention to detail has been paid to the set (apart from the disappointing lack of visible greenery in the “garden”) and costume design, which are complemented by effective lighting and sound, transforming the stage instantly from cosy living room to house of horrors. To provide too much detail around either plot or set would serve only to spoil the fun for those of you yet to see the play. Aficionados will find here all they would expect in terms of suspense and surprise in spades.  It will not disappoint.  I particularly liked the device of using snippets of classic movie suspense thrillers to mask scene changes and at the same time illustrate the various forms of murder depicted in Bruhl and Anderson’s plays.

Star casting in a production such as this always makes me nervous.  I would rather see a good actor than a famous one, but in this case it works extremely well.  Both Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace are versatile actors and work well together as husband and wife, Sydney and Myra Bruhl.  Perhaps Mr Bradley could play up the comedy a little less at the beginning of the play- the text does the job for itself and does not need to be laboured.  But this is a small gripe: these are both strong performances that are complemented well by Sam Phillips’ portrayal of up and coming young author Clifford Anderson.  Completing the five cast members crucial to the plot are Julien Ball as Porter Milgrim and Beverley Klein as the “comedy psychic” Helga ten Dorp.  I would have preferred Ms Klein’s level of OTT mania to have remained where it was on her first entrance and not to have spiralled almost out of control towards the end of the play, but she knows her audience and her performance was well received at Richmond.

The play itself has stood the test of time and does not feel at all dated. It does however have a very strange (and unnecessary) final scene.  In fact I felt so strongly that this scene was out of place that I feared it might have been added to assist the provincial audience; this would have been patronising in the extreme and after some last minute research I’m very pleased to report that Salisbury Playhouse are exonerated and the fault lies, sadly with the author.  This did not spoil an otherwise slick and classy production of a classic thriller, which I heartily recommend.

Levin himself said his preferred medium to write for was the stage as it enabled him to see his audience’s reaction. He would have been very happy to have been at Richmond Theatre this week, I am sure.

Eleanor Marsh
November 2017



From → Drama, Reviews

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