Thursday 9 July 2009

Deceptions - Receptions 2

Reviewer: Sheila Connor
June 2009

Although he is already a very experienced writer with some impressive television and feature films to his credit, this is (Paul) Wheeler's first play for the stage and he has packed a lot into it. Intrigue, drama, comedy, suspense and a love story are intertwined in a manner which keeps the audience involved and fascinated right to the end.

Expecting something on the lines of a psychological thriller, it begins calmly enough. In designer Simon Scullion's set psychiatrist Julia Smythe's consulting room is present-day fashionably minimalist, but gives the impression of a warehouse in need of conversion with its high walls of exposed brickwork including bricked up windows, the only relief being a softly lit atrium, and the only furniture table, chair and couch. Julia is dressed as befits a professional career woman approaching middle age - smart, trendy trouser suit and high heels, and is ready with her questions.

Hardly a cosy intimate atmosphere to encourage divulging inner turmoil, but strangely Adrian Wainwright (Rupert Hill), the young man on the couch, has no problem and seems a happy, cheerfully cheeky soul full of humour, and eager to tell all, while Michelle Collins's Julia, described as "sitting there calm and inscrutable" constantly twitches, gesticulates, seems nervous and ill at ease and more aware of the audience than of her patient - sorry, client - and in need of treatment herself.

As the play progresses and secrets are dragged out into the open that is how it would appear. Not quite so simple though - the main theme is revenge, and the very surprising dénouement supplies that very satisfactorily and not where you would expect.

As the consultation continues, the intrigue increases. Why does Wainwright seem intent on upsetting his interrogator, undermining her authority and eroding her confidence while belittling her profession? At his suggestion they experiment with changing roles and his more pertinent probing produces some strangely panic-stricken reactions. Perhaps it is a psychological thriller after all with suggestions of intrigue and malice. "I am going to kill you" is heard*. There is an attempted suicide, and the thought is planted that Julia is being stalked.

Dialogue (and there is great deal) is slick, witty, funny and, in Joe Harmston's production, very fast-paced, with a cat and mouse game changing sides as each attempts to score over the other, and it is here that Collins comes into her own, moving from anger to acquiescence, remembrance of tragedy, a lost love in her past life and shame at the secret life she is leading now, and expressing each mood well.

In a very confident and sympathetic performance Hill moves easily from perky, assertive young man to one with many problems, spinning story after story to gain sympathy and redemption, and the play concludes with the two protagonists gazing into the future and anticipating the satisfaction of the revenge they will have on the one who has ruined both their lives.

* The line in the script is "I am going to cure you."

30th June 2009
Reviewer: Michael Hootman

The two-handed psychological thriller is practically a mini genre. Expect reviews to call it a 'game of cat and mouse', mention 'the shifting balance of power' and perhaps promise that it builds to 'an amazing twist'. The problem with these plays is that you can't really discuss much of the plot without breaking an unwritten rule of reviewing. Which is a shame as it's hard to get across just how absurd the play is - its inconsistencies and the two characters' lunatic motivations - without a frank and open discussion of the plot. The denouement just about squeaks by - although it's not particularly interesting - but then there's another makeshift 'twist' tacked on at the very end whose weakness is just slightly embarrassing.

Julia Smythe (Michelle Collins) is a psychiatrist whose latest client Adrian Wainwright (Rupert Hill) presents an almost textbook case of easily defined neuroses. It's so textbook that within ten minutes he has found the root cause of his impotence and tries to make a break for it. But Smythe quickly gives another possible cause of his problem and persuades him to carry on the session. But did she do this out of concern for her patient? Or did the thought of a cured client simply make her worry about lost revenue? To give the play its due the two of them certainly carry out the argument about how shrinks just get paid for sitting and listening, that they try and unearth ever deeper problems to make their punters keep coming back, that they prey on those rich and vain enough to pay their fees. But it's not great theatre and the dialogue rarely reaches the level of an internet chat forum on the same topic.

At the end of the first scene something is revealed which alters our understanding of exactly why Wainwright has gone to see a shrink. Then in scene two it goes a little crazy with Smythe acting in an insanely unprofessional manner just because of being ever so slightly riled by Wainwright. She takes her revenge on him by trying to convince him that he's mad - which would be fine if the play presented her as completely barking instead of just a bit bored of her job.

Although Collins' performance is not terrible she hardly gives the character any life - she appears to resemble a cipher who has to jump through a number of plot hoops. Though it's possible that could well be a reflection on the writing as much as her acting ability. Hill is perfectly acceptable in the role of the Wainwright - and again he's not working with much - but at a night at the theatre 'perfectly acceptable' isn't really a good enough reason for buying a ticket.

Deceptions' saving grace is that despite everything it isn't boring. If only it had been a little less - or a great deal more - ridiculous it might even have made quite a good play.

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