FringeReview Scotland 2013
Ira Levin’s brilliantly crafted Deathtrap is given an airing by a Stirling based company which has been in existence since 2003. The story of a writer with designs upon the Estate of his wife intertwined with an aspiring writer who comes along to pitch a play that is then written before our very eyes has not dated; indeed it may have matured.
Sidney Bruhl is a successful writer whose career is somewhat faltering. His wife and he are running out of money when a manuscript arrives – Deathtrap. Written by an aspiring writer Sidney pronounces it brilliant and invites the new chap along to tell him more. His wife certainly has misgivings as to his motives but what transpires, without giving anything away – is equally shocking to the audience. This is a masterpiece of theatre from the late 1970’s which twists and turns round every corner.
I loved the play, found the shocks, shocking, the reveals, revealing and the whole thing wildly entertaining. It is hard not to love such a beautifully crafted piece of theatre and in the hands of this company it is performed competently giving you comfort that what you see is how the writer may have intended it be seen.
My problems though, began when I read that I was going to see an innovative theatre company perform it. What radical interpretation or innovation was I in for? Is it possible that a late 1970’s masterpiece of tension and suspension a radical stopping off point for any theatre company?
If innovative is stretching it then old fashioned would be cruel, however the direction I found rather staged, the performances slightly stilted. The beginning was slow and whilst some of the action depends upon that I found it over ponderous. My issues began, not with being kept outside right up until curtain up, the wait for the action to begin that seemed interminable after we got in nor the problem with blackouts as the windows upstairs were exposed and it was far from dark outside, with the direction.
As a director I have found casting myself out of necessity in plays and always found it a difficult mix as I believe the actors misses something and the director misses more; it is a very skilful cocktail that may be beyond me. For Carol Metcalf her performance as Myra Bruhl may have made her directorship suffer and her directing may have allowed her to slow things down too much. Tangee Lenton was however, a marvellous interruption as Helga ten Dorp, David Reid-Kay a great Sidney but Lance Fuller’s Porter appeared out of sorts and uncomfortable. Mark Harvey as Clifford Anderson confused me until I realised it reminded me so much of Chandler’s creepy room mate out of Friends. Overall it felt patchy.
The staging was stylish in some ways whilst remaining true to the 1970’s – hardly a bastion of style – and this is a company that will try and get the authentic feel. Some of their earlier work appears to have had plenty of care and attention lavished over them. For Deathtrap a box set was used with little by way of frippery although there were some nice touches round the set. Costumes were good though the delay in what seemed a costume change or delay in Act One Scene One to Scene Two involving the Director unnecessarily interrupted the flow.
I liked the company and the feel of doing something that, whilst a classic, is rarely seen. The issue for the company would appear to be what their innovation is? Theatre Broad is about broadly appealing theatre but I am confused as to what it actually means. For me their statement and advertising about letting carers in for free tells me it is accessible – in at least one sense – but broadly speaking it needed more focus as to what the company was all about.
I gave this careful consideration afterwards. This was a classic text – what would I expect apart from a straight rendering of the story? Then it hit me…
I remember a few years ago when Geraldine McEwan took on Miss Marple after Joan Hickson. Aficionados could not fathom how they would reboot such a classic series after Hickson. What they created was stylish and quirky. In the Second Act when the tango was used during Sydney’s search and we got David Reid-Kay tapping the rhythm on his cheek we got a laugh and, for me, insight. Had that tango been choreographed into a movement piece I would have been ecstatic. The music was original, had been commissioned for the piece and the sound scape worked very well – it could have been used as an integral part of the play and that would have made it much more appealing.
It was this lack of something tangible – the tentative use of a great resource in original music whilst it felt dated – accompanied by a strange ending where the blackout then had all the characters back onstage for what was a stilted tableau and a pace that felt indulgent this is a company with much to praise; it just needs some edges softened to make its way.