upon a time all stage mysteries were variants on the Agatha Christie
country house whodunit, with a disparate group of people together
someplace until they started dying off and the detective announced that
the murderer was Someone In This Room.
then in 1970
came Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth, a convoluted, twisting-back-on-itself
tale in which the question wasn't so much whodunit but who's doing what
to whom and can we believe what we just saw with our own eyes.
Deathtrap was one of the first successful follow-ups to the Sleuth
model, and it has a sufficient number of twists, turns and reversals to
keep you guessing not only what's going to happen next but how much of
what has already happened was true.
begin with a
formerly successful writer of thrillers who hasn't had a hit in years
('Nothing recedes like success,' he says ruefully, the writer in him
immediately adding 'That's good. I can use that.'). A beginning writer
has sent him a play that is a sure-fire success, and when he discovers
that the lad hasn't told anyone about it and there are no other copies,
he succumbs to the temptation to kill the kid and pass the play off as
Now, without offering too much of a spoiler, I'll just say that some of what I've just told you is not true, and that some of what replaces it as the truth is also not true, and some of that. . . .
get the idea.
Every time we settle into an understanding of what's going on, a
surprise twist shows us we were wrong or takes the plot in an
unexpected new direction. And it is fun to be tricked and to try to
keep up with the clever playwright, especially since Levin spices his
plot with in-jokes and catty one liners - the new play is so good, the
veteran author tells us, that even a brilliant director couldn't ruin
not high art, of course, but expertly crafted high entertainment.
Beale, arguably the finest classical actor of his generation, brings
more acting skill to the central role than it probably needs or
deserves, and thus gives us the added pleasure of watching a master
floating through a play with consummate ease - the effect is something
like the added frisson Laurence Olivier brought to the film version of
adequate as the younger writer, Claire Skinner a little less so as the
older man's rich wife, and Estelle Parsons adds to the comic tone by
going exactly as far over the top as a local clairvoyant as the role
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- Deathtrap - Coward 2010