Tabard Theatre, London – until 5 November 2017
Guest reviewer: Jeanine Jones
Have you heard the story of The Scorpion and the Frog? Where the frog wants to cross the pond asks the scorpion to carry him? Despite the assurance that he will do the frog no harm, the scorpion stings him and the frog is a goner. To sting is his nature, you see, which is the best way to describe the character of George Love in Tryst. Written by Karoline Leach, this suspenseful thriller is currently seeing its first revival in London for twenty years.
The plot takes us through the all too familiar experience of Adelaide Pinchin (Natasha J Barnes) who is blindsided by the malevolent charms of George Love (Fred Perry). As the spider to the fly, George expertly weaves his web around his chosen prey so that Adelaide, enticed by his elaborate lies, runs away with him. George, a con artist throughout his adult life, knows of course just what a woman wants to hear, how to evoke her sympathy and is the epitome of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Through both characters’ alternating monologues, the audience is given an insight into the harsh reality of George’s calculating, pathological agenda, juxtaposed against Adelaide’s innocence and optimism, which made me want to shout ‘No!’ in warning at the stage. In George’s mind, women are objects he thinks of as ‘it’ and he is able to assess when they are ‘ripe for it’ – this incited audible repulsion from the audience. For Adelaide on the other hand, George presents an opportunity to be loved and to finally be seen: ‘he listened like I was really interesting’.
What follows is a rollercoaster ride of emotions as the two characters’ traumatic pasts are laid bare, and their psychological wounds are opened. Adelaide and George, we learn, come from similar abusive backgrounds, and it is genuinely heart wrenching to watch Adelaide see deep into George’s darkness yet want to negotiate a life with him anyway. She has a huge capacity to love unconditionally, and Natasha J Barnes’ truthfulness and vulnerability are the perfect embodiment of Adelaide’s beautiful soul, shining through her shattered self-esteem– at one point I wanted to hug her.
Likewise, Fred Perry embodies George with impressive finesse, both in his charisma, at times comical yarns ‘she had a small attack of gout, in the hands’ and in his dark, damaged self. Perry seamlessly transitions from one ‘mask’ to the next, one moment the rogue, the next the gentleman. We see George, also the product of an abusive background, unravel to the point that he could almost become a reformed character with Adelaide’s grounded influence.
The play tackles hard hitting themes with emotional intensity and there are some lovely, intimate moments between the characters. Director Phoebe Barran’s choice to endow the audience as the mirror as George encourages Adelaide to face herself was a truly touching moment. As well as carrying the play between them, the actors manoeuvre the props to create the different locations of the story- another clever concept by Barran.
Mention must also be made of the extremely atmospheric set design by Max Dorey and Fern Hawkins, with sound design by David McSeveny which create the world of the play – there was even the faint sound of running water as the audience took their seats. The climax of the play sees a clever touch with lighting by Matt Drury which is particularly chilling. The costume design by Megan Rarity tells us exactly who these characters are, and the variety of authentic props of the period are expertly handed by Natasha J Barnes.
I was so invested in the emotional world of the characters that the end of the play came as a palpable shock to my system, particularly as Adelaide is both physically and emotionally at her most vulnerable – I needed a strong cup of tea (and ideally, some of the bread pudding Adelaide had brought with her in her bag).
With the current conversation around the abuse of power in Hollywood, Tryst is particularly topical and will resonate with audiences this Autumn. It is an important reminder that, as in the story of the Scorpion and the Frog, scorpions do exist and they will sting their prey, for this is their nature.
Tryst runs at the Tabard Theatre until November 5th