Deathtrap -Noel Coward Theatre

Deathtrap is a marvelously enjoyable piece of hokum currently being performed at the Noel Coward theatre in the West End. The superb Simon Russell Beale stars as Sydney Bruhl a writer whose better days are behind him. Bruhl hasn’t had a hit in years and is living off his wife’s money which is starting to run out. But then a student from one of his writing classes Clifford Anderson (played by Jonathan Groff best known as the lead singer of Glee’s Vocal Adrenaline) sends him his play Deathtrap – a sure fire commercial hit. Sydney invites Clifford to his isolated Westport home to discuss the play but will he really kill to get his hands on a hit?

To say anymore would be to ruin the enjoyable twisty story (as some joyless theatre critics have in their reviews). The “shocks” have been overplayed in some reviews-granted I didn’t see the central twist coming not being familiar with the play but the other twists were well telegraphed in advance. But that doesn’t make the play any less enjoyable. Deathtrap is a darkly comic piece with some real life out loud lines. Arguably it is a little too self referential at times and clever clever with lines like “hey this would make a great play” and “after Act 1Act 2 can only be a disappointment” but it is charming enough that it just about gets away with it.

Performances range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Claire Skinner, so good in everything else I’ve seen her in, seemed somewhat miscast here as Sydney’s nervous wife. Her American accent was somewhat hit and miss and generally she just looked rather awkward on stage. Estelle Parsons as the psychic Helga ten Dorp gives a performance verging on the caricature. She is so far over the top that she seemed to be channeling the Swedish Chef from the Muppets at one point. Groff is genial and charming with an affable if not especially memorable stage presence. The evening then pretty much rides solely on the shoulders of Simon Russell Beale as Sydney. Thankfully he meets the challenge effortlessly. His Sydney is darkly comic, menacing and heartfelt all at once. He commands the stage from the moment he enters. True he doesn’t even attempt an American accent and you do rather get the feeling that you are not so much watching Sydney on that stage as Russel Beale but with a performance as strong as his who cares?

Special mention should also go to the set designer as Sydney’s Westport cabin is a thing of beauty decked out with a real fireplace and all rustic beige and browns.

Apart from some ropey acting from the female leads and an entirely unnecessary final act which bizarrely recaps the action so far presumably for the benefit of anyone who might have drifted off Deathtrap is a very fun night out worth watching purely for Simon Russell Beale’s performance.

Rating: 4/5

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Passion -Donmar Warehouse

“The boredom here is such it will make a gambler of you yet.”

So speaks one of the characters in Passion, a minor Sondheim currently being performed at the Domar Warehouse. About 20 minutes in I was about ready to kick off a game of strip poker with my fellow theatre goers-anything to alleviate the boredom.

Passion stars David Thaxton as Giorgio a soldier transferred from Milan where he had been living a comfortable life with adulteress Clara (a luminescent Scarlett Strallen) to a new posting where he becomes the object of desire for the dangerously obsessed and frail and “ugly” Fosca (Elena Roger of Evita and Piaf fame). Fosca is a completely deranged stalker who makes the likes of Annie Wilkes in Misery look like an amateur. She uses her illness and her family connection to Giorgio’s superior to emotionally manipulate Giorgio and blackmail him into doing her bidding. The characters are all profoundly unsympathetic while the female characters especially are particularly wretched. Clara the happy adulteress is little more than a cipher,Giorgio is spectacularly wet and Fosca so barking mad that it is impossible to care about her plight.

All concerned do the best they can with their flimsy parts. Elena Roger suffers for her art draped in hideous smock dresses and swathed liberally in pale make up with heavy black shading to make her cheeks look hollow and her eyes sunken. Despite being saddled with such a pitiful character she sings beautifully and does her utmost to try to make you feel sympathetic to Fosca. Scarlett Strallen looks beautiful and trails star dust in her wake although arguably her performance contained little nuance-we saw nothing of the pain that living such a complicated dual life would have wrought on Clara. Thaxton is very handsome and has a strong voice but can’t overcome the fact that his character is so profoundly wet. The company provides strong support particularly Simon Bailey who is magnetic as Count Ludovic.

At an hour and 45 minutes with no interval the play is rather a slog to get through. The ending when it finally came felt less like an emotional resolution and more like Stockholm Syndrome. The message of Sondheim’s play seems to be that if you aren’t a supermodel you will live a sickly and wretched lonely life but if you stalk some wet lettuce of a bloke for long enough he may just fall hopelessly in love with you. It’s enough to make a feminist weep.

Rating: 2/5

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