Star rating *****
Phyllis Logan may be due to reprise her role of TV’s favourite Scottish housekeeper, Mrs Hughes in the ever-popular Downton Abbey. However her latest role at Theatre Royal, Bath in the Ustinov Studio couldn’t be further from the kindly yet no-nonsense character that viewers were desperate to see romancing the Downton’s Butler. In ‘Switzerland’, writer Joanna Murray-Smith has characterised the late great Patricia Highsmith, author of such novels as ‘Strangers on a Train’ and ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ thus providing Logan with a wondrous challenge. It’s one that she meets head on and indeed as Highsmith, I believe Logan gives one of the best performances of her career. Given that I was already a fan, this opinion speaks volumes.
The play takes place in the last days of Highsmith’s life, she’s holed up in her Switzerland home where she lives a fairly simple life. Although she’s surrounded by a multitude of weapons which are her pride and joy, perhaps not an unusual interest for a crime author. Clouds of smoke billow frequently as the dying writer puffs away on cigarette after cigarette and she’s also keen on an early morning beer or many, many wee drams. A visit from a representative from Highsmith’s New York based Agent catalyses a chain of events which ultimately leads the audience to question everything they’ve just seen. Yes, Edward Ridgeway (Calum Finlay) arrives and he’s hell-bent on cajoling Highsmith into writing another Ripley before she succumbs to whatever illness he seems to know is ultimately going to claim her. Certainly, we see the worst of the author’s character as she bays bear every ugly nuance, even going so far as venturing into Ridegway’s bedroom in the middle of the night with the latest knife in her grizzly collection. However, changes in Ridgeway’s persona as the piece unfolds suggest that all is not as it seems.
Logan’s American accent never falters, she’s embraced this monstrous, bizarre, show tune loving (I’ll never listen to ‘Happy Talk’ the same way again), homosexual in ways that I could never have anticipated. To be able to forget that it’s the actor playing a part is always testament to their capabilities and I forgot that Phyllis Logan was playing Patricia Highsmith. Calum Finlay is a superb match as Edward Ridgeway – antsy, edgy and subtle before the crux of the matter unfolds. The chemistry between the pair is palpable at times and the pace they create between them is nothing short of overt perfection. Director, Lucy Bailey’s touch is evident throughout – the symmetry between the actors and the director is quite remarkable. The set invites the audience into the home of an intelligent, troubled mind and you almost need to be able to have your eyes everywhere all at once to take it all in. There are clues everywhere in relation to Highsmith’s personality. Joanna Murray-Smith has written an intricately woven script so intense that 1 hour 40 minutes without an interval is thoroughly necessary.
If you enjoy dark humour, a twisting tale of solitude, doubt and indeed, love awaits you and it’s truly glorious.
The production closes on Saturday 1 September, book your tickets here: Switzerland Tickets
Photo Credits: Nobby Clark