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Photo by Helen White

Darlinghurst Theatre Co. presents, DEATHTRAP, by Ira Levin, at the Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst. 10 April – 10 May.

On a Thursday night, after watching the anti-war, TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, at the movies, as a pre-ANZAC antidote to the coming weekend of commemoration inundation, I had an early dinner, and since I had a family obligation free night, thought: “Maybe I should go to the theatre?”

What’s On?

1. ENDGAME, by Samuel Beckett. Mmmm? In my Oxford Dictionary of Plays, I remembered reading: “… Beckett succeeds in creating a beautifully written, tense drama in which almost nothing happens, a drama that offers a relentlessly bleak image of the end of humanity. At least in WAITING FOR GODOT there was always some hope of redemption, even if illusory. Here there is none.” At my time of life contemplating the endgame with Samuel Beckett is not high on my needs. Besides after watching TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, the folly of bloody war had drained me of empathy about my own end. Especially,  when to see it could cost me $108.00, plus program. Weird that the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) should think many of us would want to fork over that kind of money to do such a thing. What with their recent productions of existential navel gazing with GODOT, and Tom Stoppard’s ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, Genet’s THE MAIDS, how much more of it do I need? Can take in the theatre?

What else is on?

Well, 2, JUMPY, by April De Angelis, in the Drama Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House (SOH), for the STC. Well, I like April De Angelis and it is, at least, an experienced female voice on one of our stages. It’s Directed by Pamela Rabe. Mmmmm. I like some of Ms De Angelis’ plays, PLAYHOUSE CREATURES (1993), an especial appreciation. JUMPY, written in 2011, I read a few weeks ago and thought it not bad at all, and certainly presented the dilemma of a mother of fifty and her changing life priorities with her growing-up daughter, and her own sense of self and sexuality challenged with insight. Very interestingly written. A difficult text to heft onto the stage from the page, I reckoned. Word-of-mouth of this Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) production, however, with a well known comedienne in the principal role, a famed music theatre performer in the secondary female adult role, and a virtual unknown as the daughter, had told me that the script had not had the opportunity to reveal its internal drama well enough. The play production had plumped for comedy rather than the explored pain, my word-of-mouthers’ had told me. So, I thought, reading it may have been good enough, as $103.00 seemed a little too much to have my doubters’ word-of-mouths to be confirmed , or perhaps – a chance – to be reversed, surprised. $103.00 plus program, plus the $5.00 ‘tax’ imposed by the powers that be at the SOH, imposed to see a show at the Opera House that is added to every ticket I’ve bought there, cash in hand or not. Not worth it, really. Now, if Caroline Brazier, who is playing a small role, and has received good notices in the press for it, were playing Hilary, the principal role in JUMPY, I could have been tempted – an actor, less a performer, I feel. Anyway, I’m saving up to have a birthday dinner with friends at ROCKPOOL – a better usage of the one hundred odd bucks I’m saving, by choosing not to go, I thought. Quality at ROCKPOOL assured all round, I’m told, – and eating out at a great restaurant is kind of like going to the theatre, I and my friends are finding.

What then?

ELEKTRA/ORESTES, still inhabiting Belvoir.

And the new show at the Griffin, SBW Theatre: FIVE PROPERTIES OF CHAINMALE, opening the next night.

It was too late, to get to The Ensemble, even if I wanted to.

Go home then.


DEATHTRAP, at the Eternity Playhouse. It’s just down the street and I’ve heard good things, fun things about it. AND only $45.00, plus a gold coin program cost. “Go, do not pass go. Go.”

Well, I had seen this play maybe, a hundred years ago, but had virtually forgotten it – nay, not virtually forgotten it – actually, forgotten it, so that in this new iteration, it all was a delightful surprise. Written in 1978 by Ira Levin, it has two acts, one set and five characters (yes, he also wrote the novel ROSEMARY’S BABY (1967) – one of my favourite movies – and THE STEPFORD WIVES (1972) and THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1976)). The New York Theatre critic, Walter Kerr, concurred that there was “effrontery everywhere and fun straight through.” A play within a play, a comedy-thriller with tongue firmly planted in cheek. It has some big jump-out-of-your-seat moments and lots of very amusing moments: Ohh!, ahhh!, ha, ha, ha, (snatch a breath, again) ha, ha, ha, Yikes!,  Oh NO!, OH NO!  Interval. Excited chat, in the foyer, with a mild embarrassment, and a kind of zesty feeling of foolishness for having such a good time in the theatre with such silly stuff. Bell rings, announcement bellowed. In again, eagerly, to our seats to have more FUN. Fun in the Theatre!???? It is an almost avant-garde gesture by this Company at the Eternity Playhouse, in the general present theatre environment in Sydney, to include competent fun in their programming. The end. Bowing. Clapping. “Thank you” our hands indicate to the artists. Much energy, adrenalin expended, but much contentment felt. Chat, laughter, a drink. “Goodnight”. Bus home. A deep contented sleep in prep. for tomorrow and its slings and arrows.  One can comprehend why DEATHTRAP ran on Broadway for nearly four years, with 1,793 performances – one of its legendary hits! Probably people went twice, or more.

Director, Jo Turner has mounted a respectful and strong production. Beginning, with the most handsome set we have seen on the Eternity stage so far, from Michael Hankin – none of his bathroom/toilet stuff, here (ANGELS IN AMERICA); none of his block-some-of-the-audience-view-of-the stage stuff, here (THE GLASS MENAGERIE) – with a super cast, led with consumate ease, style and wit by Andrew McFarlane, as the desperate writer with writer’s block, Sidney Bruhl. He, matched with the cool and delicious Sophie Gregg, as Myra Bruhl, and the dashing, athletic looking Timothy Dashwood, as Clifford Anderson, the apprentice playwright (no, not Clifford Odets. No, not Maxwell Anderson, his name is Clifford Anderson – get the level of tongue-in-cheeky humour?) Georgina Symes skates close to the ridiculous as Helga Ten Dorp, but settles to honour the tradition of this kind of role immortalised by Margaret Rutherford (and of late, Angela Lansbury), in Noel Coward’s, BLITHE SPIRIT. Add to the mix, Drew Fairley, ‘plotting’ a point or two of suspense as the shady lawyer/agent, Porter Milgrim. All of them good. This recipe of the writer and of the artist ingredients make a good ‘meal’, indeed.

Anyway, what more is there say, other than the Lighting, by Verity Hampson, is properly ‘spooky’ when it needs to be, and up to her normal skilfulness, and the Sound Design, Composition, by Marty Jamieson, is spine-tinglingly atmospheric and a cause to have your heart pills on stand-by. Oops, nearly overlooked, the costumes are immaculately ‘invisible’ – thanks Katren Wood.

Go, just go and have a wild and silly time. No chance, no time to contemplate your ‘endgame’ here, no need to get ‘jumpy’ about the crisis of middle-agedness, just a chance to jump, as other people dice with a stylish endgame, with laughter and thrills. DEATHTRAP, where and when the theatre is also FUN.

The Eternity Playhouse was nearly full on the night I went – word-of-mouth was working. An audience and one of its needs had been considered by the Darlinghurst Theatre Company, and a risk was taken with the honouring of this clockwork, blast from the past, but masterful piece of genre writing. Well done, DEATHTRAP. The audience loved youse all. A good production to shine in the memories of our theatre-of-camp experiences – one needs them every now and again, doesn’t one?

I wondered why I kept reflecting back to SWITZERLAND? You’ll know the answer to that when you see DEATHTRAP.