Preview: Vertigo Theatre plants devious seeds of deception in Deathtrap

Ira Levin’s 1978 play Deathtrap has been called one of the greatest stage thrillers ever written.

Mark Bellamy, who plays the murderous playwright Sidney Bruhl in Vertigo Theatre’s upcoming version of Deathtrap, agrees wholeheartedly.

“I’ve read a lot of stage thrillers and there is nothing as good as Deathtrap. It is a genius piece of construction.

“Deathtrap is to stage thrillers what Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is to stage whodunits,” says Bellamy, who was the artistic director of Vertigo Theatre from 2003 to 2012.

“The last time Deathtrap was done at Vertigo was in 2002, which was the company’s last season in the Calgary Planetarium so this will be the first time it has been done in the new Vertigo theatre space.”

It was Bellamy who directed Vertigo’s previous version of Deathtrap, which starred Stephen Hair as the aging, scheming playwright with Heather Lea MacCullum as Bruhl’s wife, Val Pearson as the couple’s nosy neighbour, Stan Argue as Bruhl’s attorney and Jessie Dervais as the young playwright Clifford Anderson whose unproduced manuscript Sidney intends to steal even if it means murdering the young man.

Joining Bellamy in Vertigo’s new version is Barbara Gates Wilson as Sidney’s wife, Karen Johnson-Diamond as the busybody neighbour, Kevin Corey as Sidney’s attorney and Tyrell Crews as the young, budding playwright.

Bellamy describes Sidney Bruhl as “a once successful playwright with a huge ego and an 18-year writer’s block. That’s a deadly combination.

“Sidney is trying desperately to get back on top and he’s driven by his own image of himself. I think there is a bit of Sidney in all aging artists. There certainly is in me. It’s not easy coming to grips with the realization you don’t remain the bright young thing forever.

“It’s just that most of us don’t plan a murder to get one last stab at success.”

Deathtrap opened on Broadway in 1978 and ran for four years and 1,800 performances, making it the reigning king of comedy thrillers. It was turned into a film in 1982 starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon.

Because Deathtrap contains some devilish twists, Bellamy says director Jamie Dunsdon and the cast have discussed whether audiences who’ve seen a version of the play or the film will want to come back for a second or third viewing.

‘I guarantee there are things people will have forgotten, especially if it was 17 years ago that they saw it, but even if they remember it well, there’s bound to be things they missed the first time around.

“Deathtrap is a fertile garden of deception and plotting and each time you see it, you appreciate all the little seeds Ira Levin plants as he goes along. There will still be jolts and surprises and the characters are such fun.”

Bellamy says everyone associated with this new Vertigo production knows there is pressure to make this a rip-roaring good time for its audiences.

“We can’t disappoint people who only know the play by reputation or who are huge fans of it. After all, Deathtrap is the Hamlet of mystery theatre.”

Deathtrap begins previews on Jan. 26 with the official opening on Jan. 31. The show runs Jan. 26 to Feb. 24.

Tickets for all performances are available at tickets.vertigotheatre.com or by phone at 403-221-3708. Hover for Flyer

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