REVIEW: Sleuth, Grand Opera House, York, playing mind games until Saturday ****

Neil McDermott’s Milo Tindle, left, and Todd Boyce’s Andrew Wyke in Anthony Shaffer’s thriller Sleuth, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Jack Merriman

AMID the multitude of musicals, concerts and comedians, the arrival of a ‘straight play’ is always welcome at the Grand Opera House, especially when it is such a gem.

Hidden gem, hopefully not, although Monday’s audience was not of the full variety, and word of mouth as much this review will be needed to spread the word.

Sleuth, Anthony Shaffer’s 1970 “thriller about thrillers”, received the Tony Award for Best Play, its Broadway stars, Anthony Quayle and Keith Baxter, picking up the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance.

The darkly psychological play was adapted for feature films in 1972 and 2007, the first starring Michael Caine as hairdresser Milo Tindle opposite Laurence Olivier’s detective novelist Andrew Wyke. Caine would then take on the older role in 2007, joined by Jude Law’s Tindle.

Star quality, in other words. Make that soap star quality in the case of the 2024 touring production under the Bill Kenwright umbrella. Todd Boyce, formerly “notorious” Coronation Street baddie Stephen Reid, plays Wyke opposite Neil McDermott, once EastEnders’ Ryan Molloy, as Tindle.

Todd Boyce as detective novelist and complex game player Andrew Wyke in Sleuth. Picture: Jack Merriman

Twelve-year runs in the West End and on Broadway are testament to Sleuth’s appeal to theatregoers and devotees of the national pastime of amateur sleuthing alike. Add the directorial elan of Rachel Kavanaugh and it still works waspishly, wittily, wonderfully well.

In his grand Wiltshire manor house, Boyce’s wealthy, erudite, insufferable author Wyke is writing his latest St John Lord Merridew mystery. In country suit and tie, he looks and sounds very pleased with himself, awaiting the arrival of a young man of Italian parentage, McDermott’s Milo Tindle.

Ever the devious novelist keen to toy with his audience, Wyke is in the mood for point scoring/mischief making/playing games to match the automata, inventions and games that populate his study in Julie Godfrey’s classically English yet somewhat creepy design. Soon it transpires that Tindle wants to marry Wyke’s heavy-spending, lavish-lifestyle wife, Marguerite. Let the fun and gamesmanship begin in a battle of wills and wits.

McDermott’s Tindle appears to be drawn all too easily into the web of Boyce’s cynical Wyke, dressing up as a clown to stunt the burglary of Marguerite’s jewellery that will fund Marguerite’s expensive tastes and be covered by an insurance claim, but never judge a detective novel by its cover or indeed a novelist by his front.

The sudden appearance of Wyke’s gun changes the playful tone to deathly serious, but how can we be sure what is real and imaginary in his mind games or in what we are seeing?

Sleuth director Rachel Kavanaugh. Picture: United Agents

Rather than giving the game away, let’s say twists, turns and surprises plenty are in store in Act Two, after speculative interval chatter over what might ort might not be going on. Inspector Doppler will appear to make his uncoventional enquiries, later joined by the noises off of Detective Sergeant Tarrant and Police Constables.

Who is one step ahead: Wyke, Tindle or the audience? Not telling. Who’s bluffing? Not telling! Who’s on superb form? Director and cast alike, so too sound designer Andy Graham and lighting designer Tim Oliver.

Boyce and McDermott delight in Shaffer’s wit and authorial chicanery, his turn of phrase and unpredictable humour, his love of the thriller and the craft of writing. Do not let Sleuth slip by this week; it is one of those nights of clever, smart, stylish theatre that makes you love the artform.

The Jolly Jack Tar automata may have the last laugh on stage, but you will be the one wreathed in smiles as you leave the theatre, so glad to have experienced such an intriguing, criminally good drama.

Sleuth, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow, 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office:

One Reply to “REVIEW: Sleuth, Grand Opera House, York, playing mind games until Saturday ****”

  1. Whilst I enjoyed Sleuth the acting was slightly hammy and the fact that it is clearly advertised as a 2 hander spoils the plot completely. The tension was completely lacking.

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