Belgrade Theatre, Wednesday 14th March, 2018
Prolific writer Anthony Horowitz turns his attention to the stage with this small-scale thriller very much along the lines of mega-hits Sleuth and Deathtrap – plays that have a small cast, an intriguing plot and more twists than a Chubby Checker convention. The set-up: we meet Styler, waiting in the office of Dr Farquhar, in an upmarket mental health facility aka hospital for the criminally insane. Styler, dictating into a recorder, doles out exposition: he is a true-crime writer come to interview notorious inmate, the serial killer Easterman, for his next project; the doctor has been keeping him waiting for two hours…
We pick up right away that things are not what they seem. Contradictions in the dialogue and, more subtly, changes in the set: a video screen for the window changes imperceptibly, for example. As soon as Farquhar shows up, the plot gets into motion. The doctor is something of an oddball – and the discerning audience member will be trying to pre-empt the surprises and guess the outcome.
It’s played with conviction. Andrew Ryan’s Styler and Michael Sherwin’s Farquhar complement each other well, with the doctor more often than not holding court, adding to the weirdness and the unsettling feeling that something bad is about to take place. Making up the trio is Sarah Wynne Kordas as Nurse Paisley – or is she? Violence erupts, power shifts, layers of falsehood and diversion are stripped away… There are a few gasps from the audience who don’t see things coming, but the plot, rather than thickening, seems diluted by each new turnabout, and there are holes in the logic you could drive an ambulance through.
What we are left with is a bit of a mess, an exercise in unpleasantness that doesn’t measure up to the aforementioned greats of the genre. It’s well-presented and director Karen Henson focusses our attention and gives us surprises at all the right moments but for me the play doesn’t gel, and mental illness as entertainment has surely had its day. I’m not crazy about it.
Not as clever as it pretends, Mindgame teases, amuses and puzzles but is ultimately unsatisfying.