The Little Theatre, Leicester
6th February 2017
It’s difficult to review Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth without giving away too many spoilers or plot twists (and the twists come thick and fast in Edward Spence’s production which ramps up the tension and sense of escalating hysteria). But it’s fair to say that it’s a play brimming with testosterone-fuelled one-upmanship and manipulation, while also presenting a wry subversion of the thriller genre.
Reclusive crime writer, Andrew Wyke (Kenton Hall), invites his wife’s young lover, Milo (Jaz Cox), to his grand manor house with the intention of making him an offer which could benefit both of them. However, the opportunistic Milo is unaware of the ulterior motives behind Wyke’s apparent generosity. The evening gradually descends into meticulously organised chaos as the men tussle for the upper hand and we, likewise, are continually wrong-footed. I would liken it to being trapped within a Hall of Mirrors; the story and characters continually warp before our eyes and you’re never quite sure what exactly is going on. It is a testament to the direction and masterly performances from Hall and Cox that Shaffer’s script (which in lesser hands could err too much on the side of farce) is handled with a confidence which ensures that each twist hits its mark.
Similar to Shaffer’s blackly comic Murderer, Sleuth plays upon recurrent themes of interest to the playwright, often involving binaries and the shades of grey between them; precision vs. chaos, fact vs. fiction, illusion vs. reality. Thus, an exploration of the motives and categorisations of crime provides an interesting perspective on modern morality and the increasing desire to be entertained – whatever the cost. Wyke’s obsession with games shapes the plot and is cleverly referenced in the set, from old board games peppering his bookcase, to his suit-of-cards window frames and juvenile dressing-up box. Hall’s superb performance teeters atop a precipice between cold calculation and manic joviality as Wyke’s grip upon ‘the game’ gradually loosens, equally matched by Cox's progression from naive chancer into unnerving hysteria.
Shaffer’s, admittedly rather macabre, interest in crime thrillers is evident in his ability to both create a genuinely intriguing psychological mystery, while simultaneously highlighting the absurdities and well-worn tropes of the genre by cleverly subverting them – the ‘dim local copper’ being one. Moreover, instances of casual sexism and Milo’s comment regarding the use of foreign characters as comedy fodder in crime fiction illuminate the darker, more questionable aspects of what is often termed ‘cosy crime’ in highstreet bookshops, and my experience of Agatha Christie stories certainly supports this particular criticism.
Spence’s taut and highly entertaining production makes the most of an interesting script/concept which allows the small cast to truly shine.
Sleuth runs at The Little Theatre, Leicester until 11th February, 2017.
|Photos by Matthew Cawrey (www.matthewcawrey.com)|