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

DVD Review: Miss Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall

“She is a strumpet”

I’ve been meaning to get around to watching this for ages now, having picked up the DVD in Chichester for a snip, and having recently seen Jessie Wallace on stage and a date with Richard Armitage coming soon at the Old Vic, it seemed as good a time as any to delve into this 80 minute drama looking at the life and times of music hall superstar Marie Lloyd. Sadly, it should probably have lingered on the shelf a good while longer along with all the other charity shop bargains as I found it quite a disappointing bit of television.

For me, Miss Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall’s main problem lies in its format. Having avoided being a straight-up biopic, James Hawes’ production (written by Martyn Hesford, although he is curiously uncredited on the DVD) opts for a fantasia, gliding from scene to scene with little connective tissue giving us the context of the 30 odd years that are passing by. So we get the highlights of this remarkable woman’s life but nothing else –marriage, motherhood, divorce, remarriage, industrial action, public ruin, scandalous affair, boom boom boom – everything gets five minutes and then we move swiftly on. Continue reading “DVD Review: Miss Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall”

Review: Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“Once in golden days of yore”
 
In a year celebrating the centenary of Joan Littlewood’s birth, the Theatre Royal Stratford East that she did so much to develop with Theatre Workshop can be forgiven for having a distinctly nostalgic tinge to its programming. But though this 1959 musical was both a critical and commercial success for Lionel Bart before he really hit the big time with Oliver!, it is also very much of its time and so proves a much less likely choice for revival than say, the glorious revisit of Oh What A Lovely War at this same venue earlier this year.
 
Even at the point of its writing, Fings… basked in a glow of barely earned nostalgia, a picture postcard version of the Soho underworld with an almost cartoon-like like approach to violence and absolutely no sense of responsibility or repercussions at all. The book was written by an ex-convict no less, Frank Norman, so one can see from where this longing for the good old days has sprung but it doesn’t undo the unpalatability of the material as it stands. And excusing it because it is a musical and so is all just good fun feels lazy and near irresponsible.

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DVD Review: The Road to Coronation Street

“I don’t care what they do in St Helens but in Salford, no-one puts soap next to bacon”

Despite being relevant to my interests on a number of levels (David Dawson, I’m northern, and the rest of that cast!), The Road to Coronation Street managed to slip by me when it was first broadcast on BBC4 in 2010. Though a long term fixture on ITV (this drama celebrated the 50th anniversary of the soap opera), it was the BBC that took up the reins of creating this origin story for the show, a journey that partly reflects that of its writer Daran Little, who worked on Coronation Street for many years as an archivist but is now a screenwriter for Eastenders, long its traditional rival. But oddities aside, it was a frenetic, energetic romp that I found highly engaging and found it to be over far too soon with its scant 75 minutes-long running time.

The programme tells the true life story of how Tony Warren, a young screenwriter struggling to make his name in the business at Granada Studios, who hit on the idea of creating a television programme that related directly to its audience by presenting a version of everyday working class life on a terraced street in Manchester. We see the genesis of Warren’s idea, conceived from so many details of his own upbringing; his fight to convince his Canadian-born boss to take a chance on it; their battle to persuade the Bernsteins, the studio owners, to put it on the air; and once agreed, the trials of casting it perfectly so that it met both the exacting standards of Warren’s ideal and the new realities of acting on television.   Continue reading “DVD Review: The Road to Coronation Street”