Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 10 – May 10, 2015
Playwright: Ira Levin
Director: Jo Turner
Cast: Timothy Dashwood, Drew Fairley, Sophie Gregg, Andrew McFarlane, Georgina Symes
Image by Helen White
In Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, the chief ingredient for a hit theatre show is thought to be the script on which a production is based. The characters scheme and struggle to find a golden ticket that would lead to fame and fortune on Broadway, believing that nothing is out of bounds in that pursuit. Murder and betrayal are but part of the process in their creation of a smash manuscript. Levin’s own writing is witty and wild. His comedy is derived from an enthusiasm for irony, which finds its way through the entire text. Nothing can be taken seriously, yet everything rings with a hint of truth.
Jo Turner’s direction of the production is suitably morbid, and in spite of its outlandish contexts, he ensures that the personalities we meet are always believable. The plot makes good sense under his guidance, but tension never quite reaches a feverish pitch, and the humour is oddly subtle. Mystery and thriller elements are more effectively manufactured, with substantial assistance from composer and sound designer Marty Jamieson whose work here is unquestionably outstanding. Also delightful is Michael Hankin’s set, which introduces a sophisticated aesthetic to the stage, and establishes a very elegant solution to the show’s many entrances and exits.
Leading man Andrew McFarlane owns the stage with a larger than life presence as the conceited celebrity playwright, Sidney Bruhl. McFarlane works beautifully with the cynical tone of Levin’s writing to acknowledge the theatrical self-awareness of the play and to invite us along to its in-joke style of presentation. He is ably supported by Timothy Dashwood who brings energy and conviction to his role as the young apprentice writer, Clifford Anderson. The cast connects on a level of narrative accuracy, but there is little comic chemistry to be found. There is a flamboyant spirit at the heart of the material that its actual execution does not always live up to.
Scripts are often the starting point of a show, but no amount of genius writing can guarantee an impressive live experience. Deathtrap seems to have all the qualities of a gripping and intelligent comedy/thriller, but what actually happens on stage, although amusing, is not very powerful. The play talks a lot about ambition, and the team that has put this version together is clearly aiming at something quite spectacular, but its landing spot is not quite as planned.