Thursday, 9 September 2010

Deathtrap: Disappointing Despite Jonathan Groff

I'm so glad I posted that video yesterday. It makes last night's disappointment all the more, well, explainable, really.

You can read my review of Deathtrap here on londonist. But as you can guess, I've got a few more things to add...

Now, first up, I've nothing but praise for most of the cast in last night's performance of Deathtrap. Simon Russell Beale was suitably awesome (reminded me of MH, which is unexpected and quite funny); Jesse St James, sorry, I mean Jonathan Groff filled Cliff's boots perfectly; and Claire Skinner was just great as a fragile 70s housewife. (Estelle Parsons wasn't good, but then her part was a complete mess, so you can't really blame her.)

My quibbles, however, are many. And are mainly with the play, and the way it's been promoted over the last few months. Deathtrap the play is just SO FAR from that "theatrical trailer", I was almost convinced I was in the wrong theatre. Once again, like that Judi Dench Midsummer Night's Dream, the gulf between my expectations and the reality as it happened on stage before me has put me in a terrible mood. I was expecting something epic, filmic, inventive, modern and moody. I was waiting to feel Six-Characters levels of awestruck and breathless again.

Instead, the word that wouldn't leave my head was "kitsch". Now, watch that youtube clip from yesterday, and tell me how far from kitsch it feels.

As well as that, it was baggy and slow at times; obvious in its "get ready to jump" set-ups at others; it was smarmy and smug; and it was old-fashioned - and not in a good way.

There's also a teeth-clenchingly rubbish repeat of what's just happened at the end, with an awkward voice-over that made me feel like I was being treated like an idiot. And there's some problems with the sound; something like an echo whenever Estelle speaks in her not-that-funny accent that really should've been sorted out.

And then, my main quibble: now, I love a bit of self-reference in a play. Any sideways, knowing nodding to the audience generally sends a shiver up my spine. If there's a moment of metadrama to be found in a play, I'll be there, enjoying that particular practice of pointing at theatre through theatre. (Shakespeare does it; Stoppard does it; Six Characters blew me away with it: I'm a fan.)

But with Deathtrap, there was just TOO much. And it was the worst kind of nodding too: one with a big West End theatrey hat on. An expensive, exclusive-in-the-negative-sense (err, non-inclusive?) elitist hat. The kind that says "this is a plaay", with a long, Stewie Griffin style "aay". A witty plaay, that takes place in a thee-ater. The kind that says aren't we funny, we're sending up a sacred artform here, naughty, naughty us.

It's the kind of theatre that puts people off theatre. In many ways, the worst kind.

Perhaps I'm coming across as overly negative. I have to say, I had a pretty bad overall theatrey experience that evening (the lovely ET excepted). Uncomfy seats, coughing and whispering all around, a tall guy in front obscuring half the stage, and being plonked back in Row Q does not a happy critic make.

The funny thing is, I agree with almost all the positive points other reviewers have made. I nodded through those WEW boys - I concur with everything they've said here. But maybe while they liked those things, I didn't.

I can't help thinking I've been left feeling short-changed after watching that damn trailer and, once again, by believing the hype.

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