Dada Masilo

Deathtrap

3 February 14 words: Adrian Bhagat
A comic thriller with an ultimately ridiculous plot device
Deathtrap at the Lace Market Theatre. Photo by Mark James
Photo: Mark James

Deathtrap is a comic thriller written by Ira Levin, an author perhaps best known for his novel about Satanic worship, Rosemary's Baby, which became a very disturbing film. Deathtrap itself was made into a film starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve and includes a very memorable and menacing scene involving a young man trapped in a pair of handcuffs who grows increasingly aware that he is in danger.

Deathtrap features an aging playwright, Sidney Bruhl, who is struggling to write a new thriller that will pay his bills. When a younger writer, Clifford Anderson, sends him a very promising script for a play called Deathtrap, he concocts a plan to murder the young man and publish the play as his own, much to the astonishment of his nervous wife, Myra. The audience are led inside a weird circle of self-reference in which the play we are watching appears to be the play within that play! There's a clever twist within the first half but the plot gets increasingly strange and, by the end, has descended entirely into silliness.

The cast is mostly comprised of newcomers to the Lace Market's amateur company. Robert Suttle, as Sidney, seemed to be the one most settled into his role, despite uncertainty about lines. Carol Parkinson provides comic relief as the crazy interfering psychic Helga van Dorp, overacting to the degree that the part demands. The main problem with the staging seems to be the lack of chemistry in the relationships between characters, though this is more a failing of the script than the cast.

When the play was first produced in 1978 it was extremely popular, running for around 1,800 performances, though critics were less sure. These days, we are accustomed to postmodern parodies of genre fiction and so it seems rather less clever and original that it must have done then. However, this is quite a fun production with some good twists and surprises.

Deathtrap runs at the Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 8 February 2014.