Review – Deathtrap, Nöel Coward Theatre

The programme for Deathtrap contains instructions to “keep the plot a secret and don’t spoil the fun for future audiences”. Luckily for you, I’m the sort of person willing to cough up £3.50 for a leaflet full of adverts and instructions like this – so there will be no spoilers here to ruin the suspense. Or will there?

Deathtrap manages to parody the theatrical thriller genre through creating what must be the perfect example of that genre. Yes, the knowing meta-theatricality is laid on thick, but it also manages to be a compelling piece of theatre in its own right.

Much of this is down to the performances, which are superb. This is a lightweight piece by Russell Beale standards but his impeccable skill is still evident, deftly managing every line. Jonathan Groff is in a TV show which everyone I know except me manages to be obsessed by, but he more than holds his own here on the stage and is perfectly cast as the young and earnest playwright. Claire Skinner is playing a role she seems far to young for and Estelle Parsons’ “comic character” produces the most grating moments of the play. Perhaps this was just annoying or perhaps this was to make the very clever and very meta point that outright comic characters rarely work in this genre – let’s give everyone concerned the benefit of the doubt.

This play is really very well done. Slickly directed and performed, beautifully designed and nicely lit. Pity about the audience.

It was clearly First Time Theatregoer night at the Nöel Coward on Thursday. The first Act was bad enough: the rustling, yawning, stretching and talking going on from the American family in Row J; the hearing aid alarm in the Circle which bleated plaintively throughout the second scene; the guy next to me who kept checking his Skype messages (damn you iOS 4.0 multitasking); the Beyoncé ringtone at a pivotal moment.

But then this audience did something extraordinary in the second Act. Infuriatingly, I can’t go into details about what they did without giving away a crucial plot point and I’ve no idea if this reaction would be shared by other audiences on other nights – my crowd were a particularly strange lot for a number of reasons. Suffice to say the reaction from the audience to the big plot twist mid way through the Act was utterly bizarre and one for which they really ought to be pretty embarrassed.

Right, oblique (and if you haven’t seen the play presumably entirely incomprehensible) moralising over: this is a wonderfully fun and well done play. Go at once, and go with friends so you can watch them jump and discuss the perilous ethics of West End audiences after.