THEY were due to bring a season of five plays to Dorset this summer – but because of Covid, the London Repertory Players had to limit themselves to one. Fortunately, they chose a great one.

Ira Levin’s Deathtrap was a big success on Broadway, becoming New York’s longest-running comedy thriller, and was made into a 1982 film with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve.

The premise is that Sidney Bruhl, a once-successful author of stage thrillers, is badly in need of a good play to revive his reputation. He finds one when one of his former students, Clifford Anderson, sends him an immaculately constructed script called Deathtrap. As he talks it over with his wife, the struggling old hand considers murdering the young author and passing off the work as his own.

Tivoli Wimborne presents Deathtrap by Ira Levin

There are a host of surprises to follow as the events on stage parallel those in Clifford’s script. It’s enormously clever, yet it also treats us to some of the most reliable tropes of the thriller genre, including thunderstorms, gunshots, plot twists and the occasional outright shock.

Vernon Thompson’s production holds the attention throughout, making the most of the laughs and the thrills. Al Wadlan and Victoria Porter are very good as Sidney and his disbelieving wife Myra, while Claire Fisher and Richard Mullins make the most of their eccentric supporting roles.

But the first night saw particularly enthusiastic applause for Jonny Warr, who stepped into the role of young Clifford Anderson a week before the curtain went up, replacing an actor who had to isolate. He not only pulled it off but excelled in the role.

Used to playing the intimate Shelley Theatre in Boscombe, the players this time faced rows of seats left empty for social distancing at the much bigger Tivoli. But if that seemed unnatural at first, this thoroughly engrossing production soon drew the scattered audience together and entertained us as surely as theatre used to back in pre-Covid days.

  • Deathtrap is at the Tivoli until Friday, July 30.