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Review: Tryst (Tabard Theatre)

Natasha J Barnes stars in Karoline Leach's play in west London

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

First seen in the West End 20 years ago under the title The Mysterious Mr Love and inspired by real-life events, Karoline Leach's watchable if slightly ponderous two-hander is an amalgam of psychological thriller, love story and melodrama. There are shades of Gaslight and Sarah Waters' Fingersmith in this cat-and-mouse story, set in 1910, which involves an unscrupulous, bigamous shyster setting his sights on a plain, lonely milliner, and getting rather more than he bargained for.

To say anything else at this stage would be to give away too much of the plot, which really is the main point of this quietly gripping but undeniably slight piece. However, there are other pleasures to be derived from Phoebe Barran's atmospheric, nicely paced production. Chief among them is the acting.

Natasha J Barnes made headlines last year when she stepped in at short notice and to great acclaim for Sheridan Smith in the Funny Girl revival, and here she conclusively proves again that she is leading lady material. As dark-haired, insecure but fiercely intelligent Adelaide, she bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Imelda Staunton, and has a touch of the same open-faced emotionalism, whip-smart comic timing and unshowy magnetism. She is absolutely wonderful.

As her would-be exploiter, Fred Perry impressively charts George's journey from cruel predator to bewildered manchild and beyond. His focus and range match that of his co-star. If the premise of the play stretches credibility and the push-and-pull of power between the two characters gets a little tiresome that is a fault in the writing, not the actors or production.

Max Dorey's painterly, drape-heavy set subtly matches the script in springing a couple of surprises of its own.

The advertising for this project makes it clear that Barnes is the main selling point, and frankly it is impossible to disagree with that. Her star is very much on the ascendant, and I suspect there may not be many more opportunities to see her in a venue as intimate as the Tabard.

Tryst runs at the Tabard Theatre until 5 November.