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

TV Review: WPC 56, Series 1

“Never forget your sole responsibility is to help the men”

I somehow managed to let the first series of WPC 56 pass me by last year. It may have played in the afternoons on BBC1 but anything starring Kieran Bew ought to have been much more firmly on my radar. So in advance of the new series starting, I was pleased to see a rerun which I was able to catch on the good old iPlayer. Created by Dominique Moloney, it tells the story of Gina Dawson, the first Woman Police Constable to join Brinford Constabulary in the West Midlands.

The show managed a great balance between following Dawson’s struggles to be accepted in such a male-orientated work environment – battling not only misogynistic colleagues but also an uncomprehending family and partner – and the series-long narrative about a potential serial killer and the disappearance of two local boys. Over five episodes of 45 minutes, I have to say I really enjoyed it, and not only for Bew’s DI Burns (although that was something of a boon). Continue reading “TV Review: WPC 56, Series 1”

DVD Review: Breaking the Mould – The Story of Penicillin

“Dirt is the enemy”

Breaking the Mould was a 2009 TV movie for BBC4, starring Denis Lawson and Dominic West, about the development of penicillin for use as a medicine. It occupies that strange ground of fictionalised reality, in that it is based on real people and events but contains invented scenes “for the purposes of the narrative”. Added to that is a rather tight timeframe of 80 minutes in which the story is told, which results in a rather lightweight affair, which is nonetheless intermittently entertaining.

Starting in 1938, after beginning with one of those annoying flash-forwards to the end of the story, the film focuses on a group of scientists at the Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford, led by Australian Howard Florey. Aided by the German Ernst Chain and the English Norman Heatley, he was preoccupied creation of a stable form of penicillin that could be developed for medical use, following Fleming’s initial discovery of its antibacterial properties. Against the antipathy of the scientific community and the hardship imposed by the declaration of WWII, their determination to succeed eventually led to one of the most significant discoveries of the century, although it doesn’t always necessarily feel like it here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Breaking the Mould – The Story of Penicillin”

Review: Faith Hope and Charity, Southwark Playhouse

“I did not come here for a political diatribe”

I have a friend who has a mortal fear of the embarrassment she would suffer if she were to die on the toilet (yeah, I know!) but the manner of playwright Ödön von Horváth’s death is so bizarrely random, killed by a falling tree branch on the way to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at the cinema, that I think I’d take it (although I’d want to be on the way to an art-house film rather than The Green Lantern – pretentious to the end ;-)) In which convoluted way leads us to the Southwark Playhouse who are putting on his 1933 play Faith, Hope and Charity. It has been translated by Christopher Hampton who also did the English version for the Almeida’s Judgment Day, my only other von Horváth experience.

The main premise of the story is of how the working class individual can struggle to make ends meet for a lifetime yet still be lost in and crushed by a social system that cares nothing for them. Saleswoman Elisabeth is such a person: fined for selling lingerie without a permit which she can’t afford to buy because she hasn’t got a job, she borrows money to pay the fine and borrows some more to get the permit, but her economy with the truth – after all who would lend money to a petty criminal – gets her into even more trouble as she struggles to keep life and love on track. Continue reading “Review: Faith Hope and Charity, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Power Of Yes, National

“The people who have to pay the price are never the ones who benefit”

Commissioned by the National Theatre to respond to the recent financial crisis, David Hare’s latest work arrives at the Lyttleton in an attempt to try and cast some light on the global meltdown and how it was allowed to happen. The Power Of Yes is subtitled ‘A dramatist seeks to understand the financial crisis’ and is the result of a series of interviews carried out with key players from a range of institutions.

Anthony Calf plays the playwright himself in a quirky set-up as we are instantly informed that this is less of a play and more of a story-telling exercise, and guided by a Financial Times journalist played by the lovely Jemima Rooper, starts to ask the necessary questions to get down to the roots of the crisis and try to apportion culpability. The rate at which these questions are asked, and answered by a sometimes bewildering array of characters, leaves you breathless, but Hare has a knack for anchoring the flow of information to tangible markers. So when one feels in danger of getting lost in the financial jargon, we are hooked right back in with the kind of statistics that bring home the true scale of sums that were involved. Continue reading “Review: The Power Of Yes, National”

Review: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre

Much of the talk about Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new play Her Naked Skin has focused on the rather shameful fact that it is the first play by a female writer to be staged on the main Olivier stage at the National Theatre. Which whilst true and a definite achievement in itself, should not detract from the fact that this is a really rather sensationally good play.

Set in the Suffragette Movement in London in 1913 with excitement in the air as victory can be tasted, but times have never been more frenzied or dangerous as militant tendencies are at their strongest and many women are experiencing jail time on a regular basis. Lenkiewicz pitches the continuance of this struggle against the more personal story of Lady Celia Cain, bored in life and with her traditional marriage and family, who launches into a passionate lesbian love affair with a much younger, much more lower-class seamstress whom she shares a cell with and soon much more. As the affair hots up, so too does the political climate as emancipation comes closer to becoming a reality. Continue reading “Review: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre”