Switzerland – REVIEW

Switzerland – REVIEW
Image: Toni Scanlan and Laurence Boxhall in SWITZERLAND at Ensemble Theatre. Credit: Brett Boardman

Playwright Joanna Murray-Smith must have been channelling her inner misanthrope when she wrote this two-hander. 

She endows her female character, Patricia Highsmith, an American writer of the successful novel series about the “endearing” murderer Tom Ripley (played by Matt Damon in the 1999 film The Talented Mr Ripley), with an acerbic wit and a foul temper.

Diagnosed with cancer, Highsmith takes refuge in her Swiss eyrie, preferring to be unknown in a place she likes than known in a place she doesn’t (New York).

Toni Scanlan in SWITZERLAND at Ensemble Theatre. Credit: Brett Boardman

Hoping to winkle another Ripley novel out of her, the American publisher sends young Edward Ridgway to try and persuade her to sign a contract. 

The dialogue bounces between Highsmith, played with acid tongue by Toni Scanlan, and Edward, performed with obstinate persistence by Laurence Boxhall.

Finally, Edward gains Highsmith’s grudging acceptance with the gift of a large knife she desires for her collection, and then wins her over when he can contribute a murder plot idea for the next novel.

Laurence Boxhall in SWITZERLAND at Ensemble Theatre. Credit: Brett Boardman

The humour is mostly black, and very witty, as Murray-Smith sets these two characters against one another. As Highsmith notes, “Happy people are people who don’t ask enough questions”. 

Director Shaun Rennie has realised the tension between fear and humour in Murray-Smith’s script to great effect.

I’m always amazed at what the Ensemble can do with their small stage. Veronique Benett has fitted Highsmith’s domestic interior to her character, and used lighting to support the emotional tensions in the play, as does Kelly Ryall with the music. The costumes by Kelsey Lee are perfect for the period, ie 1995.

Laurence Boxhall and Toni Scanlan in SWITZERLAND at Ensemble Theatre. Credit: Brett Boardman

When the tables are turned in the third act, and Laurence Boxhall is transformed into… but no spoilers here. Just to say that, as Chekhov noted, “One must never place a loaded rifle [or in this case knife] on stage if it isn’t going to go off”.

Another thrilling production from the Ensemble!

Until June 8

Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli

ensemble.com.au 

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