Reviewed by Ellen Becker
"What's the point in owning a mace, if you don't use it?" Indeed. For once celebrated playwright Sidney Bruhl, success and psychosis are fatefully intertwined, with playbills from his most famous plays hung side by side with his commanding cache of vintage weaponry. What to do when the creative well runs dry in the wake of great success? The playwright behind the excellent comedy-thriller Deathtrap, Ira Levin, based Bruhl on his own experiences meandering in the '70's, after he catapulted to success with the horror masterpiece Rosemary's Baby in the 60's, and The Stepford Wives in the early '70's. Hence the sting in Sidney's admission, "I have a name and a reputation! Somewhat tattered, perhaps. But still good for dinner invitations and summer seminars!"
Levin got over his lull by turning inspiration lost into inspiration itself, and the thoroughly gorgeous Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst is bringing Deathtrap, the longest running Broadway thriller, back to Australia after a mysterious 35-year hiatus. Sidney (Andrew McFarlane), has been living off of his wealthy, tolerant wife Myra (Sophie Gregg), but money's getting tight, and the further away his last hit was, the further away the next one seems to be. When a student he taught sends him a "guaranteed" success, Deathtrap, Sidney teases Myra with the thought that he'd kill for another hit. When he invites young and handsome playwright Clifford Anderson (Timothy Dashwood) to come for an evening to "help" him with the play, poor Myra is wracked to the hilt with trepidation. The intimidating weaponry doesn't help.
On the rest of the story, I'll keep quiet. Levin's script is so stuffed with brilliant twists, and the frequency with which they come runs full throttle through the second act. In retrospect, the first act is like the playwright steadily winding up a music box, then once he lets go - it's one hell of a sound. We're lured into a false sense of security, like being drawn into a well-told fireside yarn... Then there's a knock at the door. This effect owes a great deal to Verity Hampson's subtle and coherent lighting design, and Michael Hankin's elegant stage design, which makes the Bruhl's den feel lived-in and intimate, but somehow it manages to contain the audience with the space. It is a quality you'll observe before the play has even begun.
Silver fox McFarlane is excellent as the tempered playwright, oozing with charm but desperate and sinister all the same. He dolls out the witty repartee of Levin's script with panache, even if reciprocal energy was sometimes lacking. Stealing the show however is Georgia Symes as the Yuri Geller inspired psychic, whose entrances and exits are hilariously well timed and bring a deliciously flamboyant flavour that lightens the necessary moodiness of the play. Talented director Jo Turner was on the hunt for a neglected audience hit, and he's happened on a great one - Deathtrap harks back to those camp and charming crime capers of old, but with a thoroughly postmodern, meta-theatrical sensibility. It's a thrilling, enlivening evening at the theatre, don't read anything more about it - just go.
Deathtrap is on at the Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst until the 10th May. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.darlinghursttheatre.com/whats-on/deathtrap