Thursday, May 23

Deathtrap – The Mill at Sonning

What would you do for a great play? In Deathtrap by Ira Levin the answer turns out to be nothing good. With all the aesthetic drippings of a juicy whodunnit and a cast of characters each less winsome than the last, this play is powered by plot twists but never gathers quite enough steam to even fog up a window.

Written in 1978 and set in the then not too distant future of 1979 Westport, Connecticut, Deathtrap does little to induce nostalgia in viewers even as it convincingly harkens back to the era of rotary phones, carbon copies, and illicit homosexuality. Fans of the play or film adaptation of Rope will find a dynamic worth exploring here that is ultimately left tantalizingly under investigated by the severely dated script and frustratingly conventional staging.

Director Tam Williams gives lead actors Nick Waring and George Watkins enough to keep themselves well occupied over the shows runtime but very little to impress upon audiences. Seemingly cast more or less according to type there are very few surprises in the execution of the play’s only occasionally shocking plot. There is some stimulation in puzzling out who is going down next and how but the lack of chemistry between any of the play’s pairings causes the inevitable unfolding of betrayal after betrayal to wax thinner and thinner as the story peters out. The fight direction by Jonathan Leverett introduces a language of theatrical violence that occasionally thrills but is similarly hindered by the lack of palpable tension in any of the show’s relationships. Although the play is itself far from a romance, the sexual allusions that pepper its dialogue are left frustratingly underexplored in its staging, and the stakes are lowered from those of love and hate to mere life and death.

With a fairly traditional but well-appointed set by Michael Holt, competent but unremarkable costume design by Natalie Titchener, and conventionally theatrical lighting by Graham Weymouth, the most notable design element of this production is its soundscape which occasionally distracts from the action with a welcome campiness appropriate to the genre. Neither bold nor brash, it nonetheless evokes a theatricality and sense of morbid pleasure altogether enthralling. Dialect Coach Iso Fitzroy too does commendable work audible in the American accents sported by much of the cast but particularly deliciously in Issy Van Randwyck’s psychic Helga ten Dorp whose otherwise surprisingly understated performance is rendered pleasantly ridiculous by the entirely over the top Scandinavian accent that yoyos all over the vocal spectrum in each sentence she utters.

Neither nail-biting nor nap-inducing, there is little in the way of titillation to be taken from these two hours. The humour is present, the sex is absent, and the violence is somewhere in transit. Not captivatingly grotesque nor entirely tasteful, it won’t make you spit up your dinner but won’t give you much to talk about on the journey back home either. This production of Deathtrap toys with heady themes but never goes in for the kill.

Reviewer: Kira Daniels

Reviewed: 16th February 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.