The West End revival of “Deathtrap” opened Sept. 7 with a pedigree that’s drawn transatlantic attention.
(Noel Coward Theater, London)
The Verdict looks at critical reaction to key productions opening Off Broadway, regionally and abroad that appear potential candidates for further life on Broadway and/or elsewhere.
Topliner Simon Russell Beale, the Brit actor who’s been much-praised on both sides of the Pond, co-stars with “Spring Awakening” and “Glee” alum Jonathan Groff. The 1978 Ira Levin play, which ran more than four years in its original Broadway run, is helmed by Rialto regular Matthew Warchus (“God of Carnage,” “The Norman Conquests”).
Besides, “Deathtrap” is a stage thriller, a hoary genre that is little-seen on the boards these days but might be ripe for a return to the spotlight.
Reviews were generally upbeat, although some critics liked the play itself less than others. It’s a critical reception that may not make a transfer a sure bet, but it doesn’t rule one out either.
Here’s what the London critics said:
n The Evening Standard’s Henry Hitchings gave the show four out of five stars, saying the “enjoyable” production “suggests the genre still has legs.” Praising the twisty storytelling and the perfs from Russell Beale and Groff, he opined that the play’s “brand of unapologetically giddy entertainment makes it sure to be a hit.”
n Libby Purves in The Times also handed the production four stars, describing the play as “wittily self-referential, artfully made, masterly in misdirection.” As was true of all the critics, she also enjoyed Russell Beale — but perhaps too much: “If there is a problem with this splendid piece of hokum — and there isn’t, not really, but if there was — it is that Russell Beale is too good, too subtle, too profoundly human an actor to fit into a serial killer-thriller, however knowingly self-mocking.”
n The Guardian’s Michael Billington awarded the show three stars, enjoying the production but questioning whether the play is a great one. “Russell Beale is excellent value and there are genuinely frightening moments, but I’m not convinced this is a classic thriller,” he wrote.
n The Telegraph’s Charles Spencer weighed in with three stars as well. “Matthew Warchus directs a production that deftly catches both the piece’s humor and its sudden thrills,” he wrote, and also praised Russell Beale and Groff. But the self-referential tone wore on him, as it did for some other critics: “It’s an enjoyable evening but the play finally feels too smugly delighted by its own ingenuity to be truly satisfying.”
n Quentin Letts in the Daily Mirror also was less-than-thrilled by the thriller, he wrote in his three-star review. “For all its merits — and it is a perfectly watchable affair — there is something oddly unsatisfying about this show,” he wrote.