Let’s Play the Killing Game: English Lovers Stage Sleuth

Co-produced by the Vienna Theatre Project, Anthony Shaffer’s thriller captivates with well-timed wit and comic tension

In the second act roles are reversed and it seems that Andrew has met his match in Milo

The tagline of Sleuth, “Are you ready for murder?” sets your mind racing before the games even begin. The intimacy of Bar & Co in Theater Drachengasse places the audience right in the heart of the action of Anthony Schaffer’s two-man thriller. With only 28 seats, the whole space is used as a stage, and we are sitting centre stage. The two actors, Dennis Kozeluh and Michael Smulik, pace around us, sparring.

Set in the stately home of mystery writer Andrew Wykes (played by Kozeluh), all the action takes place in the elaborate living room in which we sit. Bitterly jealous that Milo Tindle (played by Smulik) is having an affair with his wife Marguerite, Andrew invites the younger man to his home, and lures him into a staged robbery. Andrew knows of Tindle’s intentions to wed Marguerite, of whom he is openly disdainful. But he also knows Tindle is poor, and his wife accustomed to luxury. “This,” Andrew announces, “is where the plot thickens.” Milo is to steal jewellery from the safe, and sell it abroad. At home, Andrew will cash in on his insurance, and both will profit. Or so we think…

Dennis Kozeluh as Andrew (l.) plays with Michael Smulik as Milo | Photos: I. Gundersveen & T. Schluet

Dennis Kozeluh as Andrew (l.) plays with Michael Smulik as Milo | Photos: I. Gundersveen & T. Schluet


Playing at deception

The twists and turns are many, and their unfolding drives the play, as roles are reversed and reversed again, ensuring a captive audience right until the dramatic ending.

This is a play about games. Andrew lives in a fantasy world, and struggles to maintain the line between his novels and reality. He talks in mystery tropes, and is fixated on the games the two of them are playing. He even looks like a character straight out of Sherlock Holmes, in a brown tweed jacket and cravat. Andrew styles himself as a games master, orchestrating the actions of those who hold supporting roles in the story of his own life – Milo, as well as the two women we never meet, Marguerite and Andrew’s mistress Tea. Milo seems the opposite of the cunning, refined Andrew: He isn’t a rich man, yet he is at ease with himself and the world around him. He is genuinely in love with Marguerite, and believes that true love alone will sustain their relationship, rather than riches – although his willingness to commit the fraudulent robbery shows that few of us can escape the lure of wealth. He moves quickly from a resolute “It sounds like a crime!” to wondering if Andrew has any real-life experience of committing the crime he proposes.

Dressed in classic burglar black, and with one of Marguerite’s stockings over his head, Milo is at Andrew’s mercy. He breaks in through the skylight, armed with a hammer and stethoscope, taking instructions from Andrew via a walkie talkie. He is Andrew’s pawn. Early in the action, he fingers a piece on the chessboard in the centre of the room and receives a sharp reprimand – Andrew is the one who moves the pieces, and he intends to stay in control. Which he is, for the entirety of the play’s first act.

But, moving into the second act, the roles are reversed, and Andrew becomes Milo’s pawn. Andrew describes Marguerite as “vain, meddlesome and generally bloody crafty” – but the description seems more fitting for the pair of men. Both Kozeluh and Smulik play it superbly – their descent charted by quick talk and manic laughter, memorably embodied in a Cole Porter sing-a-long of “Anything Goes”.

It becomes apparent that Andrew has met his match in Milo. Their character differences fade away, as Andrew’s cunning is mirrored in Milo’s devilish schemes. The two men flirt with friendship the whole while, trading one-liners and relishing their ever-changing roles as cat and mouse. When Andrew is duped by Milo, he is caught between annoyance at being tricked and admiration. “You and I are evenly matched,” he says ecstatically.

In the second act roles are reversed and it seems that Andrew has met his match in Milo


Comic relief

Even in moments of the most heightened tension, it’s impossible not to laugh. With spot-on comic timing, their verbal spats provide much-needed relief in a thriller where the audience members are quite literally on the edge of their seats. During one of their quibbles over Marguerite, Andrew says, “I’m not joking.” The two men face off, and Milo responds, “I’m not laughing.” But the audience is, heartily.

With just two actors, each can play to his full potential. The tension remains tightly wound throughout Sleuth’s unravelling, with Kozeluh and Smulik bouncing off each other in a brilliant script laden with opportunities for fun. These two, who have been improvising together for over fifteen years, clearly relish the chance to push each other to the limit: another game in this play of games.



Nightly through 2 March

Theater Drachengasse, Bar & Co

1., Fleischmarkt 22

Tel.: (01) 5131 444



Share This Post

Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » appearance » Widgets » and move a widget into Advertise Widget Zone