Not to be confused with the execrable “Clue!”, Sleuth is a play revolving around two characters. One, a successful author of detective novels, the other a young man having an affair with the author’s wife. The premise of the play sees the author inviting the young man to his country home to learn his background and to make a criminal proposition. The author explains that his wife is used to expensive luxury and the young man is in no position to provide it. The author suggests that if the young man acts as a burglar and steals jewels kept in a safe in the country home it will benefit them both. The author can claim on the insurance and the young man can sell the jewellery. The author will enthusiastically call upon his experience of researching his detective novels to ensure the authorities are misled should any questions be asked.
The stage is set and what follows is an engrossing battle of wits between the two men as layers of their characters (and character flaws) are unravelled and motives behind motives are revealed.
I recently rediscovered Sleuth in its first movie adaptation which features a young Michael Caine and not-so-young Laurence Olivier in the roles of the two characters.
Last night I enjoyed watching this play in its original form in the theatre.
I find Sleuth fantastically enjoyable. Being a play there is a focus on characters, dialogue and interaction between the principal roles. This is reflected in the original screen adaptation with minimal deviation. Don’t expect any car-chases.
The dialogue positively crackles with gleeful wit and self confidence – qualities that the character of the author believes he has no peer. As such the interplay between this older, successful man and the young upstart courting his wife is very much a game on one-upmanship. Nearly every line or response shows an effort to better the delivery of the other man. As the stakes increase and the balance of power shifts to and fro references to earlier exchanges are made in a different light and reveal greater depth.
If you have any chance to watch Sleuth I encourage you to do so and can promise you as entertainingly sophisticated couple of hours as you’re ever likely to get.
In all likelihood, it’ll be easier for people to see the 1972 movie than the theatrical version. I’m no theatre purist so see no harm in this. Watching this version will still reward you with a hugely enjoyable experience and a couple of Oscar nominated performances from two highly celebrated actors. Beware: I understand the 2007 version of Sleuth (featuring an older Caine in the role of the author) does not compare at all well to the other versions.
So, before the deluge of summer blockbusters hits, hunt this down in one form or another and see it. I promise you won’t regret it.