Working for a Sunday newspaper, harassed office dogsbody Frances (Joanna Froggatt) steps out of the shadows and into the literati after a chance encounter with a fatal car accident. The victim Alys (with a Y) turns out to be the wife of Laurence Kyte (also with a Y), a Booker-winning middle-aged writer. Called in by the police to help the Kyte family come to terms with Alys’s death, Frances embellishes her account of Alys’s last words.
What was random now becomes contrived and manipulative. Focussing at first on vulnerable Polly Kyte (played with endearing gusto by Leah Gayer) Frances infiltrates the materially comfortable but emotionally fragile world of the Kytes to the point where they not only accept but need her. Her real target, of course, is Polly’s father, Laurence (Robert Glenister) a charming philanderer with a solid literary reputation and an eye for younger women.
There are huge positives in Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation of the best-selling novel. The pace trips along, helped by Joanne Froggatt’s dual character/commentator role as Frances. Her addresses to the audience help to illuminate her devious thinking and to make sense of the action as scenes unravel in rapid succession, merge, even run in parallel. Iago-like, she takes us into her confidence, so privy to the depth of her deception. As co-conspirators, we’re conflicted between admiration and doubt.
Director Nicholas Hytner builds a swift momentum with the well-oiled mechanics of a three-part stage (the front part of which disconcertingly descends) with a rolling platform. It advances for the more intimate moments on which we eavesdrop and retreats upstage for speeches, social gatherings and the newspaper editor’s private office.
Then there is the dialogue, which sparkles with witty and instantly-familiar topical references from hot-seating to hot yoga, though never really thickens from comedy for laughs to satire for critical reflection. Like Wilde, Coxon prefers a well-crafted, highly-polished mirror to a probing, analytical lens.
Billed as a ‘psycho-drama’, Alys Always is a play where message is displaced by motivation. A critique of the wine-sipping, school-fee-paying, garden-tending Hampstead pack Frances covets is abandoned for an amusing human portrait of deceit and self-advancement. We see the meek inherit the earth? But what kind of earth is it? And have we learned anything about it that we didn't already know?
|What||Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre review|
|Where||Bridge Theatre, 3 Potters Fields Park, London, SE1 2SG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||London Bridge (underground)|
25 Feb 19 – 30 Mar 19, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Price||£15 - £65|
|Website||Click here for more information|