REVIEW: Complex characters in Simon Gray’s darkly comic thriller

Simon Bonsor as Robert with Rebecca Warnett as Anne. Pictures by Luise Cartwright
Simon Bonsor as Robert with Rebecca Warnett as Anne. Pictures by Luise Cartwright

Stage Struck, The Archway Theatre Company, Horley, February 18 (until February 28)

Who’d have thought revenge could be so amusing?

Picture by Luise Cartwright

Picture by Luise Cartwright

Well, The Archway Theatre Company, of course, who are currently performing Simon Gray’s Stage Struck at their quirky playhouse in Horley.

The production tells the story of Robert, a failed actor and writer, who is married to Anne, a highly successful stage actress.

It starts as a witty and observational domestic comedy. Robert talks to Herman, an Australian tenant living in a cottage in their garden, about the lad’s affair with a married woman and gives him some laughably amoral advice.

However, when Anne reveals that she is going to leave Robert after a psychiatrist encourages her to do so, the show morphs into a clever revenge thriller.

All the characters, we learn, are putting on some kind of act and the plot twists repeatedly as Robert creates a theatrical punishment for his wife.

Rebecca Warnett gives an effective and realistic performance as Anne. It’s hard not to admire her character’s success but Anne has clearly let constant praise go to her head. She’s way too confident about her own talent and intelligence and it’s questionable whether her contempt for her husband is justified.

Stuart Finlayson does well as Herman, presenting his character’s youthfulness and arrogance in a way that makes the audience understand him but never side with him. His Australian accent is good too.

Tony Godden is on fine form as the psychiatrist Widdecombe. At first he seems cold, calculating and robotic, but as Widdecombe’s mask slips we get to see more and more of his humanity.

All the performances are strong (there are one or two fluffed lines but it’s an early show in the run) and all the actors play ‘parts within parts’, presenting complex characters who hide behind layers of artifice.

However, Simon Bonsor is definitely the star of the show as the resentful and desperate Robert.

He presents a cynical, pretentious and petulant man who (it would seem) can’t bear losing access to his wife’s money and the cushy lifestyle that comes with it.

All the actors, together with director Chris Butler, manage to keep a good balance between the comedy and thriller elements. The funny aspects become more pronounced as the plot gets increasingly complicated, which adds a farcical tone to the show.

It’s easy to forgive the way the plot’s multiple twists pile on top of each other if they’re partly played for laughs.

The only problem, it could be argued, is that the laughter softens the blows a little too much, never allowing the brutal consequences of crime to be presented in a genuinely shocking way.

That said, the gunshots in this play still manage to make the audience jump every time, keeping viewers perched on the edges of their seats throughout the show.