The casting of ex-Emmerdale stars Leah Bracknell and Peter Amory as husband and wife in this Victorian thriller provides audiences with a real curiosity value as these two played brother and sister for years in the hit soap.
Suave and sophisticated Jack Manningham constantly manipulates his wife Bella. She is convinced that she is losing her mind and spends most of her days sat staring into space waiting for some interaction. All she receives is a constant barrage of verbal abuse which leads her deeper into despair. But a stranger arrives on a dark winter afternoon offering Bella the root to her 'madness’ and she must embark on a game of cat and mouse in order to survive.
The slow pace of this piece means that for the first forty minutes the two lead characters simply go through the motions constantly repeating elements of dialogue. This means that any suspense is stalled in favour of old style theatrics. The play is therefore curiously uninvolving even though the narrative itself is interesting and quaint. Part of the blame must lie with the direction. Ian Dickens forgoes evocative sound effects in favour of overlong scenes with much talking but no scares, leading the audience to a brick wall with no surprises.
Bracknell seems so ill at ease that she overacts, reciting the awful lines at a snail's pace as if she was quoting Shakespeare. Amory fares just as badly - he plays Jack like a pantomime villain, snarling and shouting but never evoking any fear, instead the audience is happy to boo him until he disappears.
Terry O'Sullivan as the stranger offers a beacon of light to this fairly dim production, as he brings heart and soul to the proceedings and, more importantly, some genuine humour. When he is on stage you are reminded of far classier thrillers such as The Woman In Black and An Inspector Calls. He acts as though he is starring in a real spine-tingler. The shame for the audience is that he isn't.
David North's set design offers real depth and hints at what might have been as it presents a vast eerie façade in which the manipulation takes place. But as one character utters the line: "I'm going out. I might even try to enjoy myself" you may be wishing that you had done the same instead of going to see this.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Lowry, Salford)