The Other Place, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 27th June, 2019
This captivating new work from playwright Robin French tells the story of ambitious journalist Katy and cocky photographer Nick as they travel across France to interview a reclusive concert pianist in her country retreat. It starts as a comedy, sparkling with social commentary and feels very ‘now’. Director Elizabeth Freestone has the actors facing front as the characters ride on the Eurostar, affording us a kind of split screen view – a simple idea that effectively exposes character. This is a production brimming with ideas, some more simple than others, but most of them are brilliantly effective.
At the retreat, a cottage in the woods, things are not what they seem. The pianist is cagey, abrupt and mercurial. French draws us into the mystery, offering metaphysical speculations before bringing us to the edge of our seats with shocks and surprises. Freestone handles these gear changes splendidly, marrying the naturalism of her actors with video effects and the otherworldly music of Erik Satie.
Jeany Spark is spot on as the driven journalist, snooping around in drawers and handbags at every opportunity. We both like and dislike her at the same time; above all, we understand her. Olly Mott is a real treat as laddish photographer Nick, complete with that modern London accent that has cropped up in recent years. It’s a very funny performance but played with utter credibility.
Ben Onwukwe charms as long-suffering manager Denis, a faithful retainer and exasperated host. But the show belongs to Ruth Lass and her portrayal of the enigmatic pianist Silvia de Zingaro. Forthright and formidable, she weaves a spell, playing Satie live on the set’s grand piano and recounting the composer’s strange personal history. Suddenly we are in horror movie territory, isolated in the woods, with wolves on the prowl… Here French leads us up the garden path somewhat: Satie dabbled in the occult and so does Silvia. Something happens and this snappy comedy flips into a provocative chiller. Our intellectual response to the material becomes a more emotional, visceral one.
An engaging, entertaining and exciting new work expertly executed. I was enthralled.