AND THEN THE DARK
by Michael Lesslie.
New Wolsey Theatre Civic Drive IP1 2AS To 2 March 2013.
Runs 2hr One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 February.
Flashes and bangs but limited tension.
There are some excellent psychological thrillers, often penned (or word-processed) by Ruth Rendell under one name or other – and before her Patricia Highsmith. Where male-originated thrillers tend to use psychology to underpin action, the most acute women writers explore the psychological states that lead to criminal actions and violence with a detail that may be slow-burning in action terms but screws the tension along the way.
Clues don’t seem to matter so much in such work. Agatha Christie, on the other hand, couldn’t write a psychological thriller if she tried (she did, at least once, in Cards on the Table. And her novels are littered with actual and seeming clues).
These writers are all, entirely or predominantly, novelists. That enables them to come to grips at first hand with the inner consciousness of their protagonists and the impact they create on others. Poor Dear Agatha, brilliant trickster on the page, wrote inert, character-drained plays. And while screen devices can do wonders, on stage the actor rules and that means the character needs to be there.
But how is a psychological state to be expressed, through an actor’s performance, especially when for 1hour 50 minutes of a 2 hour show the character has to retain their secrets from those around? The games-playing introduced into stage thrillers by Sleuth is overt and theatrical. But it isn’t a matter of psychological exploration. A motive for murder doesn’t make a psychological thriller
Which is what the New Wolsey claim Michael Lesslie’s And Then the Dark to be. In fact it’s bodged-up with so much back-story, tediously over-asserted quirks (such as a character’s drink habits) and resorts to stage effects it’s hard to see where psychology gets a look in. A matter of revenge, its best aspects are provided by the large old house where the action’s set and some sudden loud trains passing-by (all, it seems, in one direction and not necessarily realistic; the last one, I’m sure, cast light patterns although the curtains had been closed).
Despite hard work by the cast and Peter Rowe’s Ipswich production team the psychology doesn’t stand up.
Edward: Paul Ansdell.
Arnold: Jon Carver.
Ruth: Liza Sadovy.
William: Ben Jones.
Theo: Jonny Weldon.
Copley: Grshsm Kent.
Officers: Sam Hume, Sammy Napier, Steve Withers.
Director: Peter Rowe.
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth.
Composer: Matthew Bugg.
Video: Dick Straker.
Illusion consultant: Darren Lang.