Given that Agatha
Christie's The Mousetrap is now in the 50th year of its West
End run, and a stage adaptation of Susan Hill's ghost story
The Woman in Black is in its 14th, it's surprising that stage thrillers
aren't more prolific than they are.
The West End return
of the late Anthony Shaffer's first and only major stage
success, Sleuth (pictured above), has also been a long time coming.
The original production
opened in the West End in 1970 and ran for 2,359 performances, but
though a celebrated film version followed in 1972 - starring Michael
Caine and Laurence Olivier, the latter of whom originally
dismissed the play as a "piece of p**s" - it hasn't been revived
Nor have we yet
seen a revival of another long-running 80s hit that followed in
its wake, Ira Levin's adaptation of his 1979 novel Deathtrap.
But audiences clearly
lap these plays up. Partly, we like to be teased; we also like to
be titillated; and we definitely like to be surprised.
Sleuth offers a
textbook example of combining mood, menace and mystery; and even
if there is a definite debt to Pinter in the shifting power
bases of the two men playing cat-and-mouse games with each other,
it's also an original.
Critics face a
perennial problem when reviewing the situation, and its one of disclosure:
how much do you say before you give the game away?
When I was a student,
I reviewed a university production of Sleuth, and one of the cast
- now a sometime critic himself - has forever held me responsible
for apparently doing exactly that.
and Sheila Sim in the original 1952 production of The Mousetrap
(It's a no doubt
apocryphal story, but tourists are warned that if they don't tip
the cab sufficiently that drops them off at The Mousetrap, the cabbie
will tell you whodunit!).
Maybe that's why
they're so slow to be revived: because it's assumed that everyone
still remembers how they turn out.
But Sleuth also
offers chances for some virtuoso acting, fully seized in the current
West End incarnation by the underrated but always accomplished Peter
Bowles, to the part born as a middle-aged novelist, and appealingly
accompanied by Gray O'Brien (star of the recently axed Peak
Practice), who at one point in the evening strips down to his briefs
to provide a different kind of thrill.