Sleuth – Review – Bradford Alhambra

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By Sue Dean, March 2024

Anthony Shaffer’s thriller Sleuth is already cemented in theatrical legend. The story of riveting suspense and dark wit is a psychological battle between two cunning men, led by the commendable efforts of Todd Boyce (Andrew Wilkie) and Neil McDermott (Milo Tindle). But such is the play’s complexity, the audience needs to be riveted throughout, less they lose the narrative thread never to regain it.

At the heart of this production lies the undeniable chemistry between Boyce and McDermott. Their performances are fine, injecting energy into their roles with an intensity that carries the audience through each fiendish twist and turn. The banter between the characters, filled with dark humour, neatly intertwines with the mystery, providing moments of levity amidst the tension. This dynamic is the production’s strongest asset.

Julie Godfrey’s design transports the audience to a quintessential old English manor house, replete with a grand fireplace and a galleried landing, anchored by a commanding grandfather clock. This setting becomes a character in its own right, with clever lighting by Tim Oliver hinting at unseen rooms and enhancing the play’s atmosphere. The sound design by Andy Graham further enriches the narrative, with effects that punctuate key moments, keeping the audience on edge.

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“Plot twists”

However, the production faces challenges inherent to the play’s structure. The decision to set the entire two-hour narrative within a single room places a significant burden on the script and actors. While the first act successfully maintains engagement, the second act sees a noticeable dip in audience interest, despite a plethora of plot twists. This is indicative of the difficulty in sustaining tension in such a confined setting.

Additionally, the script, dense with dialogue, occasionally becomes a hurdle for the audience. Following the rapid exchanges and complex plot developments requires undivided attention, and at times, the dialogue feels overwhelming, leading to moments of disconnection.

Also, nagging throughout, is the thought that Sleuth has become thematically dated. Set in the 1970s, it delves into a narrative of class and gender dynamics that, while reflective of its time, struggles to resonate with contemporary sensibilities. The portrayal of the rich versus the poor immigrant, entangled in a dispute over a woman, feels anachronistic. It is begging for a modern reinterpretation that would give it fresh relevance.

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“Genuine intrigue”

Still, it is important to acknowledge the production’s strengths. The extraordinary effort put in by the cast, especially the leads, and the meticulous attention to design and sound, create moments of genuine intrigue and entertainment – and Shafer’s clever use of humour within such a suspenseful plot is masterful.

So while this production of Sleuth showcases so much of what makes the play an undeniable classic, it also struggles to balance its compelling elements with its inherent challenges. Imbued with moments of brilliance in performance and design, it ultimately reflects the complex, sometimes contradictory nature of its source material — a gripping tale of rivalry and revenge that should always captivate, but sometimes can alienate its audience.

‘Sleuth’ is at Bradford Alhambra until 16th March


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