Theatre at Baddow at the Memorial Hall, Great Baddow
Jim Crozier was at the opening night ...
Levin’s Deathtrap is a two-act, one set thriller with five characters about a playwright writing a two-act, one set thriller with five characters, which is about a playwright writing a two-act…well, you get the idea. A pastiche of the drawing room thriller, which is itself a drawing room thriller, there is an M C Escher quality to this play that might make your brain hurt if you thought about it too hard, so the best approach is not to do so; just relax and let the twists and turns of the plot carry you along. A pact is made between author and audience by which the latter forgoes all expectation of plausibility in return for a virtuoso display of plotting by the former. Levin does not disappoint in this regard, as the various cogs and springs of his tale of obsession and intrigue fit together like a Swiss clock.
This presents many challenges for its presentation of course; director Mike Nower and his team at Theatre at Baddow succeed admirably, successfully steering the tricky waters between comedy and thriller to deliver an excellent evening’s entertainment. Successfully transplanting the action from New England to Old, and thereby avoiding the difficulties posed by accents, the production wholly entered into the spirit of the thing – references to “a film with Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon”, and a character reading Levin’s novel The Boys From Brazil were among the rewards for the attentive viewer. No sign of first night nerves from an impressive cast. Roger Saddington’s Sidney Bruhl, looking wistfully back to the high points of his career across the obligatory scotch, was highly watchable, exuding cleverness and so addicted to plotting murder that his life begins to imitate his art. Playing his wife Myra, Helena Jevons moved from supportive spouse to horrified observer as Sidney’s plan becomes clear. John Mabey played the protégé (or “twerp” as Sidney would have it) Clifford, come to learn from the master, with just the right level of wide-eyed innocence, and was particularly effective in the sequence when Cliff has to make best use of his authorial skills of invention to save his own neck. Or so he thinks. Or does he?
The quintet is completed with excellent support from Barabara Llewellyn and Bob Ryall as a Dutch psychic and family lawyer respectively, who also top the evening off with a charming little coda to pick up the last of the loose ends.
The set was well up to, possibly exceeding, the high standards we’ve come to expect of TAB, with impressively solid looking beams and a fireplace practical to the extent that paper could be burned in it (not really, but the effect was sufficient to convey the impression). As with all Nower productions, joint or solo, meticulous attention was given to details like the array of weaponry on display, window cards (not posters, of course) of Sidney’s previous plays, and did I see a bottle of that 70’s favourite, Blue Nun, make a guest appearance? Lights by father and son team Philip and Michael Wright, and sound from Craig Greenslade were effective but not obtrusive. TAB’s reputation for polished presentations will be further enhanced by this production.