It's been nearly thirty years since Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth took London and the U.S. by storm with its twisty, grandly hammy tale of a thriller writer getting even with his wife's lover. The show continues to have a life around the world and may even see a London relaunch, with Stacy Keach eyed by the playwright to recreate a lead role he played on tour in the U.S.
But that's not the big news for Shaffer. According to Variety, his newest play, The Thing In The Wheelchair, is prepping for a West End opening in early spring 1998, with rehearsals beginning in November.
Nicholas Roeg, an auteur film director (The Man Who Fell To Earth) will make his stage debut with the piece, which is -- yes -- a thriller. Or, as Shaffer prefers it to be called, "a shocker -- thriller sounds so declasse." He told Variety the show would be a descendent of films like Gaslight and Double Indemnity. "It is so politically incorrect, so foul, so against the natural impulse," said Shaffer of the work. "A complete pathological bitch tortures an old woman in a wheelchair who is completely paralyzed except for her eyes. The audience are going to loathe that younger woman, and it's about time." Asked by Variety why people would want to see this, Shaffer replied, "Outrage. There's nothing like abusing an audience, right?"
People certainly did want to see Sleuth and still do, which Shaffer calls a blessing and a curse: "It's a blessing perfectly obviously because it has given you a name and a reputation; but it is somewhat of a curse because it condemns you to one genre. Everything now has to be or is expected to be in a twisty form, a thriller with a trick. And sometimes you haven't prepared one because you don't intend to; you don't want to." The show closed on Broadway in 1970 -- after 1,222 performances.
Other plays by Anthony Shaffer -- not to be confused with his twin brother, Peter "Amadeus" Shaffer -- are Murderer and The Case Of The Oily Levantine. As for Wheelchair, Shaffer hopes to get Helen Mirren (A Month In The Country, TV's "Prime Suspect"): "She's one of the few people who is not only sexy but has a very, very strong cutting edge." --By David Lefkowitz