Gem of a study in wit

Superb acting, sure direction and an exquisite set make Asylum Theatre's Deathtrap a hit

REVIEW / THEATRE

DEATHTRAP

Asylum Theatre/Drama Centre Black Box/Thursday

Deathtrap is a fiendishly clever riff on deja vu, a play within a play and a study in biting wit.

If that sounds mysterious, it is only because no theatregoer worth his salt would deny others Deathtrap's gasp-inducing twists. Its playwright Ira Levin's chosen theme is: How likely is one to kill for fame and fortune?


Andrew Mowatt (left) and Chris Bucko deliver top-notch performances. PHOTO: ASYLUM THEATRE

Levin, who died in 2007, was a hit on the page, the stage and the silver screen from the 1950s to the 1990s, with such sinister works as Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Stepford Wives (2004) and The Boys From Brazil (1978). Deathtrap, written in 1978, is the longest-running thriller-comedy on Broadway, with a Tony Award nomination to boot.

In 1982, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon and Michael Caine starred in its film adaptation.

At a glance, its plot could not be more prosaic: Sidney Bruhl, a has-been playwright, invites Clifford Anderson, a brilliant student of Bruhl's craft, to his posh pad, supposedly to spruce up the latter's script.

Bruhl is bankrolled by his weary wife, Myra, which leaves him leery of her. He keeps calling her the "frowning" and "drowning" wife. They live next door to a Dutch psychic, Helga Ten Dorp, who keeps barging into their home with talk of bad vibes. Then, the killings begin and the Bruhls' lawyer Porter Milgrim smells a rat.

The Bruhls' cosy drawing room is also a killing parlour, or deathtrap, with its walls adorned with knives, guns, a crossbow and a big battle axe - the last of which sent shivers through the audience when Anderson, at Sidney Bruhl's instigation, brandished it.

Over two hours, there was a bludgeoning, a strangling, a shooting, a stabbing and an arrow through someone's heart. There was no gore, but the full-house audience was constantly on tenterhooks from the characters never being what they seem.

  • BOOK IT / DEATHTRAP

  • WHERE: Drama Centre Black Box, Level 5, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Till Oct 30; 8pm (Tuesdays to Fridays); 3 and 8pm (Saturdays); 3pm (Sundays). The performance on Oct 27 will be interpreted in sign language

    ADMISSION: $40 (Tuesdays to Thursdays and weekend matinees), $50 (Fridays and 8pm on Saturdays)

Dean Lundquist's sure and supple direction produced deliciously zingy repartee from the cast and their delivery of Levin's lines really stung.

Good acting is about bouncing off the projected energies of one's fellow actors and Lundquist's cast of five rarely missed a beat.

As grasping Sidney Bruhl, Andrew Mowatt's comic timing was superb. He drew a laugh every minute from the audience. He was also very much the play's pulse.

Chris Bucko as Anderson was equally adept, his breezy air and winsome ways turning on a pin to menace.

Top-notch acting and directing make this value-for-money production a gem of theatre here this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline 'Gem of a study in wit'. Print Edition | Subscribe