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Deceptions – Mercury Theatre Colchester (and tour)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Paul Wheeler's play Deceptions has a plot to keep you guessing continuously but not characters to keep you involved the whole time they are onstage. As we only meet two of them in the flesh – and they have a great deal to say to each other over the two hours – this is a problem.

Julia Smythe is a psychiatrist with a trrendy consulting room in what looks (in Simon Scullion's set) like a warehouse conversion, all exposed brick walls and circular floodlit atrium. Very fashionable. Michelle Collins makes her a credible, well-dressed, well-heeled expert approaching middle life with a personal as well as professional background.

It would have ben easier to sympathise as she entangles herself with the younger man who is her patient if all Collins' speeches – and there are a great many of them – had come over clearly and without the occasional fluffs which can destroy the theatrical illusion for a theatre audience. That apart, you can believe in Julia as she makes her choices and is prepared to stand by them.

It is likely that the majority of people in Britain have had no direct contact with the psychiatric profession, so there's always an element of being on unfamiliar ground with a play set partly in a consulting room. Joe Harmston's production takes us from there, via a short street scene, to the bedsitter where Adrian Wainwright lives. He's Julia's latest patient, a thoroughly perky young man in Rupert Hill's interpretation when we meet him, stretched out on the couch and metaphorically twiddling his toes at the same time as he spins his stories.

Adrian indeed has a range of very complicated hang-ups that require a whole series of solutions which, in their turn, create further problems. Hill suggests the plausibility of his character very well and produces a controlled anger for the dénouement in the shabby little flat which not even feminine domestic touches can make into anything more than a mere staging-post.

A staging-post and not a resting-place is the impression which remains at the end. In the second act the question is posed"Where do you go from 'no'?" Perhaps there is no answer. Perhaps there is one, but it lies outside the scope of this play. There's more than one way to deceive.


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