Deathtrap at the Noel Coward Theatre in London – Round-up of Reviews
Deathtrap marks the first big show to arrive in town at the start of this autumn’s West End openings. And it’s a biggie, with much anticipation around the pairing of acting giant Simon Russell-Beale and Glee heart-throb Jonathan Groff, along with director Matthew Warchus turning his intelligent eye to another genre ripe for reinvention – in this case, the thriller.
But much of Warchus’s work in the reinvention stakes seems to have been done for him in Ira Levin’s 1978 comedy thriller, which neatly deconstructs and exposes the inner workings of the well-made thriller, with plenty of shocks and laughs along the way.
And it’s this self-awareness that seemed to grate on the critics a bit: they had a good time, but didn’t seem to love it more than they had expected to.
The critical response certainly didn’t rival that generated by Warchus’s reinvention of the farce genre in Boeing, Boeing. However, the largely positive reviews gave the thumbs up to a very stylish and well turned-out revival of a crowd-pleaser.
Most critical praise was reserved for the slick direction, the creative team’s efforts and the performances – namely Russell-Beale and Groff. The ladies, Claire Skinner and Estelle Parsons, fared less well.
Finally, everyone struggled to not spoil the plot: as Charles Spencer says in the Telegraph, “I love thrillers but they are the devil to review because of the entirely justified convention that one mustn’t give too much away.”
Read extracts from Deathtrap reviews from the Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Stage and Evening Standard below.
The Guardian, Michael Billington
“There are more twists than a bent corkscrew.”
IN SUMMARY: “More than 30 years on, it still offers an elegant construct with a juicy star role, even if Mr Levin’s endlessly self-referential tone begins to pall after a while.”
THE CAST: “Although Russell Beale makes no concessions to an American accent, he deploys his innate comic gifts with great skill.. It’s a pleasure to watch his hair-trigger timing, even if he lacks the manic zest John Wood gave the role on Broadway.
THE PLAY: “Levin’s play is a bit too self aware for its own good. With jokes about directors and critics, convergence of fiction and reality, and references to the “arthritic contrivances” of the theatrical thriller, you feel the play is as much a running commentary on the genre as a living example.”
THE CREATIVES: “Matthew Warchus’s atmospheric production, Rob Howell’s oak-beamed set, and Garry Yershon’s music keep the tension alive,
FINAL THOUGHTS: “Russell Beale is excellent value and there are genuinely frightening moments, but I’m not convinced this is a classic thriller.”
The Telegraph, Charles Spencer
“I love thrillers but they are the devil to review because of the entirely justified convention that one mustn’t give too much away.”
IN SUMMARY: “The piece is stronger on style and jokes than dramatic substance.”
THE PLAY: “Levin is almost overgenerous with the twists in his serpentine plot, and there were two startling moments that made the woman sitting next to me scream out loud.”
THE CREATIVES: “Matthew Warchus directs a production that deftly catches both the piece’s humour and its sudden thrills, with a terrific design by Rob Howell of Bruhl’s sumptuous converted barn of a study adorned with the many lethal weapons he collects.”
THE CAST: “Simon Russell Beale is in splendidly baleful, blackly comic mode as the blocked author… Jonathan Groff makes a fresh-faced, apparently likeable adversary, but the other characters are thinly drawn with Claire Skinner wasted in the role of the wife, and the character of a bonkers psychic downright irritating in Estelle Parsons’ over-pitched performance.
FINAL THOUGHTS: “It’s an enjoyable evening but the play finally feels too smugly delighted by its own ingenuity to be truly satisfying.”
Evening Standard, Henry Hitchings
“A series of boldly theatrical and frankly camp moments, sometimes very silly yet perfectly calculated to jolt audiences out of their seats.”
IN SUMMARY: “The comedy thriller is not exactly staple West End fare these days but Matthew Warchus’s enjoyable revival of Ira Levin’s 1978 play Deathtrap suggests that the genre still has legs.”
THE CAST: “A superb performance from Simon Russell Beale… Clifford Anderson, played with genial charm by Glee star Jonathan Groff… Claire Skinner is suitably fussy and awkward as Myra… Estelle Parsons fails to convince as the Bruhls’ clairvoyant neighbour.”
THE PLAY: “Levin’s extravagantly plotted script is full of ingenious self-reference. It’s also outrageous; it strains credibility and appears thoroughly knowing about doing so… and at times the writing’s humour sags.”
THE CREATIVES: “Warchus has done a characteristically nice job of dusting off a somewhat creaky period piece and imbuing it with vitality… Rob Howell’s design is lavishly detailed, memorable especially for the disquieting array of weaponry on show.”
FINAL THOUGHTS: “Deathtrap may not be a show for those who expect their theatre to be intellectually exacting, but its brand of unapologetically giddy entertainment makes it sure to be a hit.”
The Times, Libby Purves
“It is wittily self-referential, artfully made, masterly in misdirection (oh, so THAT’s the victim – or is it? Which corpse is actually dead?).”
THE CAST: “Russell Beale is too good, too subtle, too profoundly human an actor to fit into a killer-thriller, however knowingly self-mocking… A fine comedy cameo from Estelle Parsons as Helga the psychic.”
FINAL THOUGHTS: “There are moments, in a seriously enjoyable evening, when Bruhl [Russell-Beale] gives us shards of real feeling, real ambiguous self-disgust and humanity, and makes us stop wondering who will be clobbered next, and pause to consider the pain of an old man of the theatre.”
The Stage, Mark Shenton
“[Warchus] brings his astonishing fresh eye and constantly-surprising instincts and inventiveness to that big seventies hit – Deathtrap. He is invaluably joined by his regular creative team that includes Rob Howell, Hugh Vanstone and Gary Yershon respectively providing the imposing set, scary lighting and atmospheric music.”
THE PLAY: “Author Ira Levin wittily puts every bitter pill that a playwright has had to swallow on the table, as he has a writer of once-celebrated stage thrillers Sidney Bruhl, who has discovered, in his words, that “nothing recedes like success”.”
THE CAST: “The quietly resentful and carefully scheming Simon Russell Beale… and Jonathan Groff as the opportunistic young man… bring a riveting and insinuating intelligence to it… Claire Skinner and Estelle Parsons are less successful in the underwritten roles of the playwright’s wife and a comic-relief psychic neighbour respectively, able only to play one note of strained anxiety each.”
FINAL THOUGHTS: “producer David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers… have another solid West End hit on their hands and a sure-fire Broadway transfer ahead.”