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How to write the next big hit

Elizabeth Boyce - Myra Bruhl

There are weapons mounted on Sidney’s studio wall, says actor Elizabeth Boyce who plays Myra, Sidney Bruhl’s wealthy wife in Evolution Theatre’s production of Deathtrap. The audience can’t help but notice the weaponry when they enter the theatre.

Whether or not any of those weapons come into play, or are only a red herring, the audience will have to wait and see. Except for a glimpse into how the lead actors see their characters and how they relate to other characters the Guide is sworn to not give anything away about the twists and turns in Ira Levin’s thriller or the production.

Boyce plays Myra Bruhl, wife to the once-successful playwright who plots his return to fame. Bruhl’s play The Murder Game was a smash hit when it opened 18 years earlier. Since then his success has diminished. He dreams of writing a one set, two act play with five characters — the very formula Levin uses by way of an inside joke.

The plot hinges on a manuscript Bruhl receives from former student, Clifford Anderson, and knows will be a hit.

Myra is Sidney’s biggest fan and wants to bolster up her husband, says Boyce.

“They’ve been married 11 years. She and Sidney love each other very much. She loves being on the arm of a famous playwright and he likes the fact she has money.

“You see a little strain in the relationship in the second act. You see it mostly in Sidney. He’s witty and quippy but Myra’s go-to stance is ‘stand by your man’. She will do whatever she can to help Sidney get back on top.”

The play’s characters go through a lot of changes, conflict looms for everyone and every character has some sort of a secret, says Boyce.

“It’s a fun thriller. It’s fun to have moments of tension and moments of comedy to break it. But when things are funny then it gets very tense.”

James Packman - Sidney Bruhl

Levin takes murder, deceit, innocent dialogue with hidden sinister meanings, plot reversals, and unexpected turns of events, and twists them into a dangerous puzzle in his play, Deathtrap.

A possible break in once-successful playwright Sidney Bruhl’s fortunes comes when he receives a script from a former student. Bruhl invites the student to his country home to give him some advice on the play.

But is that his real motive?

“He’s not a very nice guy,” actor James Packman says of his character.

“He’s trying to relive his past glory. He’s very much living in the past but he’s looking for any opportunity to better himself.

“And he’s quite rude to Myra.”

He does have feelings — but they are hidden, says Packman.

“Those feelings do come out but he only admits he loves someone when he’s absolutely low — and they are genuine feelings.”

Packman last played an American character in the Unity Theatre production of Shadowbox. Although his character Brian was gay and a writer. Sidney is very different from Brian in that Sidney’s humour is very dry, says Packman.

“He’s not a happy man. He’s self-interested.”

His relationship with the promising young playwright who has penned a work Bruhl would die for is one of a tutor-student affair. A tense triangle develops between Sidney, Myra and Clifford.

“Sidney has an informal meeting with Clifford with no other intentions. But after he delivered a monologue to his wife earlier we’re not sure if he was serious.”

Simon Marino - Clifford Anderson

Budding playwright Clifford, who has written the sort of play fading playwright Sidney Bruhl would kill for, is young but not naive, says actor Simon Marino.

“I see a level of manipulation and deception from the get go. His innocence to me is a sham. He wants the success Sidney wants and to beat him in that.”

Clifford has an analytical mind, says Marino. At the same time, he is able to blend in with people. He looks up to Sidney but at the same time uses him as a means to an end.

The plot twists and turns and is peppered with surprise moments.

“It’s a psychological play. It keeps you guessing. You’ll be taken for a ride.”

Deathtrap, Evolution Theatre, 75 Disraeli Street, Friday July 26 — August 10. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances (7.30pm), Sunday (2pm). Adults $34, seniors $29 and youth $24. Bookings can be made online at www.evolutiontheatre.org.nz/deathtrap

EVERYTHING IS NORMAL: James Packman (right) plays once-successful playwright Sidney Bruhl who is financially dependent on his wealthy socialite wife Myra (Elizabeth Boyce) in Evolution Theatre’s production of Ira Levin’s mystery thriller, Deathtrap. The couple are visited by budding playwright Clifford Anderson (Simon Marino) and a tense triangle develops between them. Picture supplied