Deathtrap – The Comedy Thriller Comes Out of the Doldrums

Does the thought of going to the theatre to watch a ‘comedy thriller’ seem less appealing than curling up at home with a mug of cocoa to read the telephone directory?

Reader, stay with me here, I may just be able to change your mind.

‘Please keep the plot a secret and don’t spoil the fun for future audiences’ pleads the programme for Deathtrap, now playing at the Noel Coward theatre in London’s West End. 

The plea invites comparisons with that other West End theatre fixture, The Mousetrap, also exhorting theatregoers to maintain a cloak of secrecy throughout its unparalleled run of 58 years.

For me the similarity between the two productions ends there. Whether Deathtrap can notch up a lengthy London run does of course remain to be seen, but it’s already credited as the longest running thriller in Broadway’s history.

 American writer Ira Levin’s  play within a play comes with an impressive pedigree.  Its author is also famous for writing A Kiss Before Dying, Rosemary’s Baby and later The Stepford Wives (responsible for inserting a new adjective into the English language) as well as The Boys From Brazil.

 Levin had already shown that he was an author capable of creating a very tangible atmosphere of suspense before deciding to return to playwriting with Deathtrap.

The plot has more twists and turns than an Alpine pass, but with the advantage of enough comedy to allow the shoulders to assume their rightful position before the next hairpin bend ahead. 

I’m not going to reveal what happens, other than to say that a once successful writer with an advanced case of writer’s block finds a deadly solution to his predicament (which is only slightly less than the publicity material gives away).

Simon Russell Beale ably leads a small but spirited cast in a’ comedy thriller’ that actually succeeds in thrilling and has the laughs in the right places.

Put down the ‘phone directory, leave the cocoa for another night and see this play if you possibly can.

Deathtrap plays at the Noel Coward Theatre, 85-88 St. Martins Lane London WC2N 4AU until January 22. http://www.deathtraptheplay.com

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