Difficult not to second guess the ending
Sleuth, by Anthony Shaffer, Arts Theatre, CambridgeSleuth first had its first night at the Theatre Royal Brighton 38 years ago. I was there. A few seats along from me was Laurence Olivier, who, apparently, had some unflattering things to say about how long it would run.
Sleuth, by Anthony Shaffer, Arts Theatre, Cambridge
Sleuth first had its first night at the Theatre Royal Brighton 38 years ago. I was there. A few seats along from me was Laurence Olivier, who, apparently, had some unflattering things to say about how long it would run. Two years later, with the thriller a huge hit, Olivier himself starred with Michael Caine in a film version. Now it's back on stage with Simon MacCorkindale and Michael Praed in the two key roles.
Back in 1970 the play had a wit that was lacking in the detective thriller dramas of the time. Sleuth doffs its cap towards the inter-war writers of detective stories. Their stock-in-trade was the ingenious aristocratic amateur detective who solved cases when the professional Plods failed, and in so doing were able, Poirot-like, to look down their noses at the police. MacCorkindale plays Andrew Wyke, a successful detective novelist whose stories about his hero, St John Lord Merridew, have made him the rich owner of a manor house.
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He regards himself as a master games player and he invites to house, ostensibly for a civilised char, the younger man, Milo Tindle, who's now his wife's lover. Wyke even suggests as scam in which Tindle, dressed as a clown breaks into the house, steals some jewels that he can sell, while Wyke himself is to collect the insurance money. But in fact it's a set-up, a terrifying humiliation game carried out at gunpoint.
You begin to realise how deeply playwright Anthony Shaffer into conning. Milo's conned, we're conned, and even the programme notes are a con.
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But now games are in the air. Milo, the son of an Italian watchmaker is after Italian-style revenge. He steps it up, playing an equally vicious, but this time two-part game, determined to show Wyke that he's no more than a snobbish ignoble, impotent, amateur. It becomes a deadly psychological game about jealousy and male (and class) rivalry.
It's imaginatively directed by Joe Harmston and performed with pace and energy. Simon MacCorkindale even tends to suggest that Wyke is seriously unhinged as he loses control in the second act. Michael Praed is a good foil.
Ingenious as the play is, it is dependent or the audience not knowing the stage tricks. The fact that there's another film version, again starring Michael Caine, doesn't help.