Review: Deathtrap, Theatre Royal Brighton

“Always when moon is full, I am in top form”

The floorboards in Sidney Bruhl’s isolated barn conversion may squeak underfoot, but there’s nothing creaky about Adam Penford’s smart revival of Ira Levin’s 1978 play Deathtrap, first seen at Salisbury Playhouse last year and now touring the UK. A play full of twists and turns, with a play-within-in-a-play and added cinematic meta-commentary thrown in for good measure, this production proves there’s still a place for classic crime thrillers in this post-Scandi-noir world.
Bruhl is a playwright struggling to accept that he is past his prime but when Clifford Anderson, a talented young playwright sends him one of only two copies of his brilliant new whodunnit, he spies an opportunity to ape the thrillers on which he built his now-flagging reputation and steal the newcomer’s success for himself, despite his wife’s reservations. But Anderson is as much a student of the genre as Bruhl and so the stage is set for, well, the unexpected.
Penford has mastered the art of suspense here, sending shocks out into the audience right from the very first beat of the play – you won’t forget Ben and Max Ringham’s sound design in a hurry!. He also lulling us into a false sense of security time and time again, for Levin’s crisply plotted spine-tingler remains a thrill as he toys mercilessly with us. Is anyone who they appear to be? Can you keep track of the double, triple, (quadruple?) crosses? Is that crossbow real?!
Paul Bradley’s Sidney is well-judged, scarcely hiding his darker urges beneath a rumpled avuncular exterior and he connects well with an impressive Jessie Wallace as his slowly unravelling wife Myra and an inspired Sam Phillips as the clean-cut Clifford, whose depths are no less fascinating as he strips off his layers. The plum role though is scene-stealer Helga den Torp, a marvellous Beverley Klein, whose psychic visions threaten to unveil what shenanigans have passed.
Morgan Large’s single room design provides the perfect arena for the drama, especially where Sidney’s collection of weaponry is concerned and Duncan MacLean’s video work is neatly inserted into the scene changes, where we’re played excerpts from Gaslight, Dial M for Murder, Witness for the Prosecution and Sleuth, dramas that Clifford mentions he loves and whose significance only grow throughout the play here. A touring thrill, Deathtrap is definitely one to catch if it comes near you.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 16th September, then touring to…
Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury 19 – 23 September 2017
Southend Palace 26 September – 30 September 2017
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford 3 October – 7 October 2017
New Theatre, Cardiff 10 October – 14 October 2017
Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham 17 – 21 October 2017
Mercury Theatre, Colchester 31 October – 4 November 2017
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham 7 November – 11 November 2017
Richmond Theatre 14 November – 18 November 2017

Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva

“Household rules and small decrees unsuspecting bring us these secret little tragedies”

Well Daniel Evans looks set to be continuing one of Chichester Festival Theatre’s longstanding traditions, of producing musical theatre that tempts the cognoscenti over to West Sussex in droves and which leads calls for West End transfers as soon as the curtain falls (if they had curtains in Chichester that is…). His first musical for the venue is a promising one too, an adventurous choice in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline or Change, and an entirely successful one under Michael Longhurst’s direction and a genuinely superb cast.

It is 1963, the United States is in the grip of a civil rights movement but one whose effects haven’t quite trickled all the way down to the Deep South just yet. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American maid in Lakes Charles, Louisiana working for a Jewish family, The Gellmans, for 30 dollars a week. But she’s a single mother of 4 and ends are barely meeting so when stepmother of the house Rose devises a plan to teach her 8-year-old stepson Noah not to leave change in his pocket, it’s a difficult one to resist despite – or maybe because of – all the racial, social and economic tensions it represents. Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva”

Review: After October, Finborough

“Listen: things will be different after the play comes on – completely different… Only a few more weeks, Francie, and you’ll see. Your whole life will change. I promise you it will”

Managed to sneak into After October at the Finborough  in its final week due to several people raving about it and glad I did, for it was a Christmas cracker. Rodney Ackland’s Before The Party was an under-rated triumph at the Almeida a few years ago so I don’t know why I didn’t book in for this earlier on. But pleasing to see it has had such a successful run, a well-deserved airing for an under-served writer and a continuation of the Finborough’s extraordinarily reliable track record of unearthing real gems from neglect (this is the first London revival of the play since its debut in 1936).

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 22nd December

Review: Young Chekhov – Ivanov, National

“People think there’s something deep about despair. But there isn’t”

With Platonov failing to even make it onto the stage in his lifetime, Ivanov came to be Chekhov’s professional debut as a playwright. As such, it bears many of the hallmarks of a writer still coming into his strengths – having identified what he wants to say to the world, he’s still working out the most devastatingly effective way of doing it. The first time I saw Ivanov has the distinction of being one of the first times I ever really enjoyed a Chekhov play, seduced as I was by Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal for the Donmar in the West End (which also had a little known actor called Tom Hiddleston in it…), 

I’d be lying if I said I could remember enough about Tom Stoppard’s version to compare and contrast with David Hare’s new adaptation here, but Geoffrey Streatfeild’s interpretation of the title character does feel a little less of an outright cock. Don’t get me wrong he’s still a Grade-A tool (misogynist, anti-Semitic, serial cheat) and ‘mid-life crisis’ remains the pathetic catch-all excuse it ever has done, but there’s a real sense of the depths of the black clouds of depression that lie over this Ivanov and the social pressures that has put him under that offer at least a little insight, if not outright sympathy, for his situation. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – Ivanov, National”

Review: Young Chekhov – Platonov, National

“Whatever you do, don’t rely on your own judgement. That’s the worst mistake you could make

Platonov wasn’t performed in Chekhov’s lifetime and even in this radically adapted version by David Hare, I’m not 100% sure that it works. You can see the attraction in terms of the Young Chekhov context – a trilogy of the Russian’s early work – but for me, the main pleasure comes in seeing the benchmark from which his later genius advanced.

It’s not for lack of trying from Jonathan Kent’s production, lead by a sparkling performance of disreputable charisma from James McArdle as an unhappily married teacher intent on spreading his vodka-fuelled discontent through the bedsheets of most of the local community, not least Nina Sosanya’s Anna and Olivia Vinall’s Sofya, with little care for the impact of his actions. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – Platonov, National”

CD Review: Candide (1999 Royal National Theatre Recording)

 “I’ll show my noble stuff by being bright and cheerful!”

They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Both in terms of writing, Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide (with its multiple literary contributors from Voltaire’s novella) dates back to 1956 and an entirely different age, and in terms of production too, Trevor Nunn’s National Theatre liked its big, grand musicals and this 1999 adaptation – co-directed by Nunn and John Caird – was lavishly done with its lush orchestrations fortunately recorded for posterity.

My only previous experience of Candide is with the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production in 2013 so I can’t really comment on the different versions of the show (although having done a little reading, I realise that this is something people have strong opinions about!). Instead, I’m listening to it with pretty much fresh ears, revelling in Bruce Coughlin’s orchestrations and Mark W Dorrell’s musical direction which sound utterly gorgeous, especially with a cast of this calibre. Continue reading “CD Review: Candide (1999 Royal National Theatre Recording)”

Review: Into the Woods, Théâtre de Châtelet

“Once upon a time…”

Yup, the addiction’s real. Whether collecting Nectar points obsessively to get enough for free Eurostar trips or looking at theatre programmes in Paris, Amsterdam and beyond, the limits I had imposed on myself have been well and truly shattered and amongst other traditions, I now appear to making an annual pilgrimage to Théâtre de Châtelet’s Sondheim production – 2014 seeing Into the Woods making its bow in front of a Parisian crowd after the joys of Sunday last year.

Lee Blakeley’s production is sumptuously done – a 30 piece orchestra brings Sondheim’s score vibrantly to life under David Charles Abell’s baton, and selecting a cast that is as much as operatic as it is musical theatre lends a certain sense of class, of intelligent musicality that is highly enjoyable. It may miss the playfulness that the Open Air Theatre’s recent production had in spades but the quality here feels on a different level, not in securing Fanny Ardant’s voice for the giant.  Continue reading “Review: Into the Woods, Théâtre de Châtelet”