Friday 24 July 2009

Deceptions - Receptions 3

Reviewer: Paul Bowers
26th June 2009

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as ‘a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’.

Mental illness is far more common than most people realize and can range from mild depression to full blown paranoid schizophrenia. Most of us have at experienced some form of mental illness such ass depression at one time or another, which is often triggered by traumatic events that we are somehow unable to process.

Deceptions, written by (the) ubiquitous Paul Wheeler, currently showing at the Yvonne Arnaud takes a long hard look at the wok of psychologists and therapists and their effectiveness at bringing people back to a state of mental wellness.

The story is not over-complicated. Long-time psychotherapist Julia Smythe, played by Michelle Collins, is feeling that her life is little staid and that there are few challenges left for her in her profession.

When Adrian Wainwright, played by Rupert Hill, comes to see her, things begin to change. What then transpires and develops through each session is a series of mind games through which psychoanalysis is stripped bare and held under the spot light. A battle of wills emerge which reaches out from the comfort of Julia’s offices into the home of her client.

As the two grow closer together we finally discover that there is a secret connection between the two characters which could be describe (sic) as almost oedipal.

All very interesting, but the play struggles with the challenge of dealing with deep and complicated ideas on psychoanalysis at quite an advanced level, but interlacing them with a storyline which, quite frankly, fails to present them in a cogent and realistic way.

On top of that Michelle Collins still does not appear to be relaxed or at home on the stage. She often seemed to forget her lines and occasionally gabbled unintelligible ones to cover it up. She was also not a particularly convincing psychoanalyst.

Maybe it is simply Michelle’s style of acting, but her persona seems best suited to playing characters like Cindy Beale (her role in EastEnders until 1998) rather than over-paid psychologists like Julia Smythe.

Rupert Hill (Keiron Wallace in The Bill and Jamie Baldwin in Coronation Street) fared better and had a great stage presence which helped keep the play moving.

The set, on the other hand, was a creative masterpiece. It had brick walls on either side of the stage which curved inwards eventually disappearing behind a large vertical cylindrical column. For the first few acts the column was peppered with large white pains (sic) of glass which were shaded and lit from behind to denote the analysts office. Then as the action passed to Adrian’s flat the column revolved revealing a brick wall with a small kitchen area at its base.

Between each scene change music by the Smiths was played while the stage hands moved the set around. The stage hands also managed to join in with the fun with a little bit of acting themselves even with the stage lights down.

Deceptions is a psychological drama. And as befits a play of this genre the first act takes place in a psychiatrists consulting room. A young man has come to find a resolution to his troubles, but is he all he seems to be?

As you would expect, he is not. And the unravelling of who he is, whether the information he proffers is the truth or not and finally what has drawn him to the consulting rooms of this particular psychiatrist is the nub of the story.

Rupert Hill, known for his many TV roles including Kieron Wallace in The Bill, and Jamie Baldwin in Coronation Street plays Adrian Wainwright. He uses his well known cheeky charm to good effect but the dialogue has a curiously old fashioned feel for a modern young man of 23.

And Michelle Collins as psychiatrist Julia Smythe fares no better. Ms Collins has won our hearts both on TV, notably in Eastenders and 2000 Acres of Sky and in her many roles in the theatre, but this is not her role. She does not convince, and particularly in ‘professional mode’ has a curiously staccato style of delivery which is most off putting.

It is only when the action moves to Adrian Wainwright’s bedsitter that the action becomes slightly more believable. In response, I also became slightly more interested in why Adrian wanted to draw Julia Smythe into his world with so many deceptions. Could it be for revenge, for love or was there a more subtle reason for the subterfuge? And there can be no doubt that both Michelle Collins and Rupert Hill felt more comfortable in these scenes.

An interesting set by Simon Scullion with a modern brick warehouse type backdrop and a central lit column only serves to make the old fashioned nature of the dialogue stand out even more. The play was first performed at the Kings Head in London in 1991, but has a fifties feel to it which a few up to date references do little to change. Director Joe Harmston’s skill has certainly added quality to this production. In this case it amounts to doing his best with what he has been given. As this is a two hander, there is not even the interest of a range of characters to offset the creaky nature of this script.

There is undoubtedly a problem with casting two well known actors in roles that only their experience can make in any way believable. Their names will certainly inspire us to book a seat, but what will we think when we’ve spent two underwhelming hours in the theatre?

Apart from some enthusiastic clapping from a group of ‘fans’, the audience reaction was muted; I’ll leave the final words to a lady who on leaving the theatre said, ‘It was alright, but I’ve missed the Wimbledon Highlights’. Quite so!

Reviewer: Sue Madden
22nd July 2009

NOT so much a thriller, more a black comedy, Paul Wheeler's latest play, Deceptions brings together two of the nation's favourite ex-soap stars, Michelle Collins (Eastenders) and Rupert Hill (Coronation Street) in this riveting, psychological two-hander.

From the outset, Deceptions demands your attention, with dialogue flying between jaded psychiatrist, Julia Smythe (Collins) and her latest 'client' Adrian Wainwright (Hill).

What appears to be a simple therapy session, between a young man with a vivid imagination and his psychiatrist, descends into a cross-examination, where roles are reversed and secrets revealed.

The tension increases as doctor and patient struggle to outwit each other, to gain the upper hand.

There are some genuinely funny moments dotted throughout, interspersed with a nice touch of menace, as you question the motives of both characters.

Deceptions has a clever, cerebral plot that can be enjoyed for just what it is - great drama, done very well.

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