Review: Deathtrap

Malvern Theatre Company
21 April to 6 May

The stage is set.  Its walls are littered with an antique collection of specifically positioned weapons, framed theatrical posters, and the mounted head of a mountain goat.  There is also a shelf of liquor decantations, an open fireplace and a very burgundy theme which I don’t think was symbolism for red wine.  Mysterious music plays and the lights go out.

It’s a pleasant night to be visiting the Malvern Theatre Company, even though we know – there is danger in this room!  We are taken immediately to West Port Connecticut in the late 70’s and introduced to Sidney Bruhl (Brett Whittingham) and his wife Myra Bruhl (Helen Ellis) who are dressed era and character appropriate.  Sidney in his subtle red toned shoes, is struggling with his writing and finances are stretched.  But in our opening scene and as luck would have it, a student who has been attending Sidney’s seminars sends him a play to read – and it’s got great Broadway potential.  Immediately he realises that this piece entitled ‘Deathtrap’ could be seen as his next great smash hit, so Sidney plots with his wife how to collaborate with this student and lift him from this creative dry spell.

Or so, we all think.

With lots of snappy dialogue, all I can say is hold onto your seats in Act 1!

Photographer: Lorraine Bell

There’s thrillingly clever twists and the constant allure of murderous intent.  Who will be the victim, and how?  There is almost an initial lullying of conversation to rock you into a sense of gentle comfort as we get to know the happy couple.  Sidney’s frustrations are felt as Myra the faithful wife prepares yet another meal of salmon for dinner.  We get a snapshot of their life before the entrance of the handsome student in Clifford Anderson (Travis Handcock) followed by psychic Helga ten Dorp (Glenda May) who just so happens to be staying next door. These added flavours change both the pace and the taste of this play, just like any good spice shall do.  And the result is a delicious blend of twists, turns and very big bangs.

As the characters intertwine amongst each other, the American accents are comfortably held throughout and there is good contrast in voice, mood and physical presence by all. This is especially evident in the commendable performances from Whittingham and Handcock who deliver the play with great strength.  The scenes between the pair are powerful and appear to be taking place right in that moment, despite the audience knowing full well there would have been a great many rehearsals.  They use pause for tension, pace to build and are natural on stage.  As the wife, Ellis adds the gentle level to the household as a softer character in the play which allows May to have the big moments of energy which she most definitely brings out under those warm lights. In all her crazy and having many fun one liners here, she plays nicely off the straighter character of lawyer Porter Milgrim (Greg Barison) who displays clarity and a firm confidence in his role.  Hats off to all players here for the large amount of dialogue learnt.  Whilst there were a few slightly stumbled words in this performance it did nothing to hinder the overall experience.

After the entertaining shock in the first act, you were on the edge of your seat for the second and it brought with it a few costume changes and some simple alterations of set.  Throughout the performance the placement of props and use of the stage was clearly well designed and thought out.  Levels, layers, and all good things to keep the audience entertained shows the skill of the director Keith Hutton. This includes the use of blood which got quite the audience reaction, one lovely lady grabbing at her partner’s arm and exclaiming “How charming! Murder in the first act!” 

As the story unfolds it complicates itself further and doubles over in pain even when you think things are at a resolve.  There’s constantly more plotting and ploys, tension, suspicion, doubt and the thriller of great motives which can be enjoyed by all in attendance. Ira Levin’s most celebrated play Deathtrap, is truly showcased by the Malvern Theatre Company.  It is an alluring production for those who enjoy a well written script that holds humour, storyline and suspense.  The characters are truly brought to life on this stage displaying intricacy and intelligence in an entertaining night of acting and smart drama.

Whilst there were a couple of lighting cues that appeared slightly delayed, the ending of the production will leave you wide eyed with a finale that’s all bundled up and tied extremely tightly making very sharp edges!  With everything being so highly enjoyable, you can even purchase props at the end of the season to remember your experience of spending a charming evening with the Malvern Theatre Company.

Deathtrap runs until May 6th.  Grab your seat and jump in before the door closes!

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Wendy Samantha

Wendy Samantha

Wendy Samantha is a writer and director and runs her own performing arts school. She has worked on many shows and musicals and is head of primary music at a prestigious Melbourne private school.
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