Tabard Theatre, London – until 5 November 2017
Guest reviewer: Bhakti Gajjar
Tryst is a play that cleverly and chillingly explores domestic abuse. A charming man may often be the most feared by women as there is a risk that through a subtle combination of power and control, he may both captivate and ensnare his victims, with it sometimes taking months or even years to uncover the hallmark characteristics of his terror.
Tryst, by contrast, is set over a few days. And, more importantly, the true colours of the man in question are proudly displayed to the audience from the get-go.
Superficially, the premise is simple: boy meets girl. But it’s not so much that simplicity as rather ‘crook meets his mark.’ From the outset the play is completely transparent. The crook in question, George (Fred Perry), informs the audience of his plans for his next target, quickly revealed to be Adelaide (Natasha J Barnes). She is consigned to working in the back of a milliner’s shop, because, like the other girls forbidden from gracing the shop floor, there’s “something wrong” with her. This gaping chink in her self-esteem, along with her fiscal assets, makes her an ideal target for George.
The first half of the production weaves a tale of rapid courtship, told through a combination of rapidly changing separate monologues and interactions between the two characters. It’s a dynamic that is mirrored by the interplay between Matt Drury’s lighting design and Max Dorey’s set, serving to amplify the tension.
As the story progresses, layers of Adelaide’s character are unwrapped, each revealing something even more endearing. George follows a similar trajectory but with one striking difference – he has laid out his modus operandi in his opening dialogue. Delivered in an authentically cold and calculating manner, it is difficult to forget this and consequently, to be entirely pulled into the transformation that he pulls off. The parallel that comes to mind is one of a magician revealing his tricks; once done, it is near impossible for the watchful viewer to truly forget them.
In a two-character play, the audience needs to fully believe in both protagonists. Adelaide undertakes a journey of personal growth, peppered with a shrewd observations and self-awareness. She’s immensely likeable and in a magnificent performance Barnes’ portrayal of a complex young woman sees the actor continually digging into the depths of her emotional reserve to keep the audience fully vested in her story. George, on the other hand, never entirely crosses the bridge into believability – this is both a relief (for that would make it unbearably dark) and a shame, as it feels that this might have been always the intention.
The script is beautifully crafted, moving at a pace that flits between thundering forward to reflect the fast passage of time and pulling back to uncover a multitude of truths. And it’s this concept of truth and reality – and by extension, trust – that lies at the heart of this play.
It is impossible to view Tryst outside of the very current lens of sexual harassment and assault that are currently dominating the media; particularly the strand of debate about the situations that sit along this spectrum. It provides the play with a framework that makes for particularly uncomfortable viewing, especially given that this play is set in the Victorian era.
The newly-renovated Tabard Theatre, situated opposite a church and a park, is an ideal home for this production on a dark and windy October’s night. Tryst stays with the audience long after the end of its 90 minutes, as any great thriller should do. It pervades the mind and through the select questions it leaves unanswered, bequeaths a haunting legacy.
Runs until 5 NovemberReviewed by Bhakti GajjarPhoto credit: Alastair Hilton