Her psychologically-charged narrative mingles with her own life story in Joanna Murray Smith's biographic play. Switzerland transfers to the West End after winning Best New Work in Australia and impressing at Theatre Royal Bath's Ustinov Studio.
TV star Phyllis Logan (Downton Abbey, Lovejoy) plays the ailing, aging Patricia Highsmith. Edward (Calum Finey) arrives unexpectedly, apparently sent by Highsmith’s New York publishers on a mission to cajole the writer to pen one last great novel.
The action is centred in Highsmith’s Swiss den, a brooding space created by stage designer William Dudley with weapons adorning the walls-set off by two rectangular windows featuring sharp and snowy mountains.
Without giving the game away, ferocious attacks are thrown like missiles in Edward's direction. But tables are turned in the nick of time as he finds a way of lodging himself deep inside Highsmith’s brain.
From here on in the plot thickens like the mountain fog or Highsmith’s smoke filled lungs as we witness a murderous game of cat and mouse between the two.
Edward wheedles his way inside the writer's inner sanctum, gradually morphing into the monster Highsmith created in Ripley. The innoculous chino-clad visitor becomes an angry man, potentially capable of making the fictitious murders into a reality.
The dialogue between the two is as fast-paced and smooth as a Wimbledon play off, spanning sharp snipes, literary theory, the author’s contempt for contemporary and musings about murder.
Murray Smith gives us an insight into Highsmith's sexuality, politics and troubled family life. It's entertaining enough but, only becomes truly gripping as a piece of theatre towards the end of the play.
Perhaps this itself is a ploy to lull the audience into a false sense of security and then bam, it all falls apart. But there are enough clues laid down along the way to know that something murderous is afoot and at times the snappy interplay and power struggle between the two characters feels like a waiting room before the real action kicks in.
Overall though, Lucy Bailey’s production is clearly mapped out in terms of creating a believable sense of place as well as allowing time for the fearsome energy between the two characters to blossom and grow into something truly insidious.
This, plus the perpetual digging under the surface to understand what really lies behind the characters motivations, keeps us interested and drives the play forward when at times it could flounder.
|What||Switzerland, Ambassadors Theatre review|
|Where||Ambassadors Theatre, West Street, London, WC2H 9ND | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
10 Nov 18 – 05 Jan 19, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
|Website||Click here to book now|