There is something that touches fresh nerves about The Little Theatre’s new production of Anthony Schaffer’s 1970 play Sleuth. A strikingly blonde Kenton Hall plays the part of Andrew Wyke, a manipulative, misogynistic, eccentric (of the old English aristocracy kind), with a taste for game-playing – batting misogynistic comments around without a qualm. Sound like anyone?
Sleuth will be well-known to some through the 1972 film adaptation featuring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, or the 2007 version with Caine and Jude Law – but for those who don’t know it – the play centres around Andrew Wyke (a successful crime writer) and his wife’s lover Milo Tindle. Wyke lures Tindle to his house to persuade him to take part in a fake burglary of his wife’s jewels that will allow Tindle to profit from the jewels and offer his wife (Marguerite) a wealthy existence, whilst Wyke can profit from the insurance money. But, of course, there is more to this plan, and its deviant appeal is the kryptonite of both characters.
Schaffer’s play is brilliantly divergent, taking its audience on a whirlwind journey that explores our innate competitiveness, as well as our tendency towards sadism. This is overlaid by ideas about masculinity and male bonding – suggesting that one-upmanship is both necessary and destructive in male relationships.
As an especially text-heavy piece, director Edward Spence’s use of movement works well in bringing to life the tactility and underlying aggression between Wyke and Tindle. There are moments of tenderness between them, brotherly-like affection; even moments of homoeroticism, all mixed in with rage that is constantly teetering on violence.
Kenton Hall (Andrew Wyke) and Jaz Cox (Milo Tindle) have brilliant chemistry on stage, their rivalry and kinship equally believable, and excellently managed by Spence. Spence’s direction allows for some fantastic, indulgent moments, including a particular highlight in which Wyke and Tindle give into childish tendencies and joyfully destroy their surroundings. Moreover, the issues brought to light in the play are painfully relevant, unflinchingly highlighted by Spence by drawing out moments in which rape and sex are flippantly discussed, or even used to manipulate.
Yet with so much in the text, the physicality of both characters at times become exaggerated and unnecessary. Hall’s performance was incredibly comedic, but this often bordered on camp, giving his character’s darker moments less authenticity. This was less of a problem for Cox as Tindle, whose gradual unravelling felt more natural, yet his signs of madness (such as a high-pitched, Joker-esque laugh) seemed unnecessary, proving to be jarring and a little clichéd. This is a shame because, brought down a few notches, this pair could make for explosive viewing – but the caricatures they slip into bring you out of the moment. This was added to by the unsubtle appearance of an iPad on stage, which brought into question the era. Had it been intentionally modern, then this was not echoed by the rest of the set; had it been intentionally historical, then this was done a disservice by the use of an iPad.
Ultimately, however, I was never bored. As spectator’s to Wyke and Tindle’s games, we too have the wool pulled over our eyes, and we too feel the burn of humiliation at being tricked. Moreover, we want to keep watching, to see if we can outsmart Schaffer’s excellently devised plot. In this respect, Spence and his cast do an excellent job of allowing us to examine our own intentions, showing us that our desire to overtake one another is both completely malign and inherently human.
Sleuth runs until 11 February, buy tickets here.