Anthony Shaffer’s play Sleuth was memorably brought to the screen in 1972 in a film version starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine and rather less memorably remade last year by Kenneth Brannagh, with Caine again, only this time he was playing the Olivier role and Jude Law was playing the part that Caine played in the original.
Perhaps as a response to the new film version, the play has been revived in a touring production. Shaffer’s play is a two-hander, with the two hands in question, on this occasion, being Michael Praed (ex Robin of Sherwood and former Prince of Moldova!) and Simon MacCorkindale (Casualtys much lamented Harry Harper).
The play is set solely in the large draughty house owned by Andrew Wyke, a successful mystery writer. Wycke is a player of games, a setter of puzzles, and the set, an object-cluttered living room, reflects his obsessions. He has lured his wifes lover Milo Tindle to his home in order to toy with him. This he does in a series of games within games, each more insidiously evil than the last.
Sleuth is, intentionally, a rather twisty, turny thing, a play that likes to wrong-foot and surprise its audience. Joe Harmstons production is solid enough for a touring show. Thats not to do it down; it kept me entertained, gripped. The tension was well managed and the play was constantly surprising right until the inevitable, but still shocking, ending. There was also a fair amount of humour, though this was coupled with an increasing sense of unpleasantness.
MacCorkindales performance, as Wyke, was by far the bigger of the two. His every movement was flamboyant and there was a lot of hand waving. He had a nice way of reacting to his own wit and managed to sustain a sense of his characters barely contained madness throughout, while also conveying a sense of sadness and loneliness amid the mania.
Praed, as Tindle, was far quieter and more subdued, but he still managed to get across the sense of the corruption through humiliation that his character undergoes as Wyke manipulates him.
Of course Olivier and Caine cast long shadows but, in the end, that hardly matters, as this is a production that works on its own terms: involving, accessible, entertaining, mildly unsettling on occasion surprisingly scary and, crucially, fun while it lasts. Its not great art, but then its not trying to be, this is a wholly satisfying production, an ideal antidote to a wet Aberdeen afternoon.