Writer: Anthony Horowitz
Director: Karen Henson
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Anthony Horowitz originally wrote Mindgame as a novel that he later adapted as a play with runs both in the West End and Broadway. He’s a prolific writer of novels, plays, films and television series and is perhaps best known as the writer of Foyle’s War, set during and after World War II.
As we enter the theatre, we are presented with a very traditional red curtain cloaking the stage. When it rises, we see a man sitting in the middle of a large traditional and detailed office. Pink Floyd’s Time plays as he, and we, explore the space through Michael Donoghue’s clever use of lighting. The man takes notes into a portable recorder so that we realise he is in the office of Dr Farquhar who runs Fairfields, a hospital for the criminally insane. Farquhar arrives having kept the man, who we now know to be Alex Styler, waiting as he dealt with a situation. Styler is the writer of true-life crime stories of the most macabre and ghoulish kind and is at Fairfields hoping to meet and research one of its patients, the notorious serial killer, Easterman.
But something is not quite right: Farquhar claims not to be aware of Styler’s visit nor its purpose, blaming a flaky secretary. There is something perturbing about his office that has us continuously questioning our own perception. And surely a nurse wouldn’t behave as quite as Nurse Paisley does when summoned?
We learn more about Styler’s motivations for approaching Fairfields as a complex mind game is played out with twists and turns aplenty and with rules that shift like quicksand under our feet.
Most of the action takes place between Farquhar (Michael Sherwin) and Styler (Andrew Ryan) and we spend much of our time seeking clues about their developing relationship. Ryan’s Styler is initially earnest and keen to learn about Easterman while initially, Sherwin’s Farquhar is stolid with an undercurrent of …. something. Menace? Or maybe fear? Our perceptions shift as to his motivations as the script writhes before us. For the first half, the verbal fencing between the two slowly ratchets up the tension, aided by the occasional appearances of Sarah Wynne Kordas’ Paisley. She is fear personified as she tries to warn Styler off. The three make the best they can of what is today a slightly creaky script, which, for all its twists and turns doesn’t have us on the edge of our seats in the way the best thrillers do – and has some rather obvious plot holes too. The pace picks up in the shorter second half as the layers are stripped away. The final dénouement is satisfying in, with hindsight, its inevitability – as the best twists are.
Karen Henson’s direction is measured and understated, appealing to our intellect rather than emotions. And that is where this production doesn’t quite cut it – we never do get emotionally invested in these characters as we objectively sieve the evidence with which we are presented, and the tricks of the set, aimed at unsettling us and undermining our understanding, serve rather as a distraction. It’s a worthwhile evening that provides an intellectual challenge and is entertaining enough but lacks the shock value of the best thrillers.
Runs until 17 March 2018 | Image: Simon Cooper