Prepare to be charmed.
You can see it coming but can you really resist?
Doused from the start with a refreshing burst of brutal honesty, a con man and his victim introduce themselves, their lives and their longings before slowly weaving us into a subtle and intriguing web.
Tryst is the final production in the inaugural season of the newly relaunched Chiswick Playhouse; a charming black box theatre space located above the Tabard pub by Turnham Green Station. The play by Karoline Leach premiered in 2006 at the Promenade Theatre in New York and was previously performed at the Chiswick Playhouse in 2017. This two-handed crowd-pleaser, based on a true story and set in late Victorian England, is back and no wonder. It is perfectly suited to the intimate space, which enables the intelligently crafted script to slowly but surely wrap its threads around its audience and reel them in.
“Like the very best of sensation-fiction Tryst takes a true story and twists it”
George Love is a handsome con artist preying on single and vulnerable women for financial gain. By first securing their trust and persuading them of his adoration, he lures them into agreeing to a tryst. Adelaide Pinchin fits Love’s ‘type’ to a tee: she is humble, pure and naïve with just enough ambition and savings to tempt him. Fred Perry (George) and Scarlett Brookes (Adelaide) create an intense and detailed chemistry between their characters but only after first wooing the audience. George and Adelaide both begin as fairly one-dimensional creations; initially pronouncing their dominant traits allows the audience to quickly decide on their impression of the people on stage in front of them. This impression is then challenged, peeled away and remoulded as the production manipulates our perceptions and judgement. Like the very best of sensation-fiction Tryst takes a true story and twists it, taking its audience on a journey equal to any of Wilkie Collins or Mary Elizabeth Braddon.
Perry and Brookes both expertly navigate their character’s development and changing relationship with each other. The power-balance between them continually flips, adding layers of uncertainty to what first appears to be a simple case of predator and prey. My only criticism is that in the performance I saw the point at which Adelaide catches on to her lover’s duplicity was not quite as precisely presented as I would hope. The audience is informed of Love’s ill intentions from the beginning and I would like to have clearly seen Adelaide’s moment of realisation and her decision to react in a particular manner. This would have given her character greater agency and a stronger connection with the audience.
The tone of the production shifts, almost unnoticeably, as this slow-burning thriller evolves and unravels. What begins as a simple plot with the audience playing confidante to both characters develops into an intense duologue and battle of wills, shutting the audience out from their position of security and leaving them to play the part of an unfortunate fly, suffering slow emotional and psychological torture on the mottled wall of History.
“This slow-burning thriller evolves and unravels”
The set, sound and lighting design perfectly support the gradual unfolding of the plot. As the layers of personal history and depth of character are revealed the lighting subtly sustains the shifts in tone, the simple and precise sound design enables the stagecraft to work effectively and the beautifully eerie set is slowly revealed as shrouded objects are exposed one by one when their presence is required. I would hate to reveal spoilers for a show that is (in my opinion) best entered into without expectations, but I will say that the set can only be fully appreciated in the final scene when the action has ended.
The lightness of humour and style spirals into darkness as the complexity of the couple’s relationship is exposed. I am convinced that in the Chiswick Playhouse I have found a hidden gem and look forward to hearing what future seasons have to offer.
Tryst runs at the Chiswick Playhouse until 29th February 2020. This review is of the performance on the evening of the 22nd.