Trap for a Lonely Man
Robert Thomas, translated by Lucienne Hill and John Sutro
Terra Incognita Theatre Company
Lion and Unicorn Theatre
In a chalet in the French Alps a distraught man (Joe Shefer) is explaining the circumstances of the disappearance of his wife, only three months after their marriage, to a police inspector (Tom Carter). The couple had a row, he wants her found. It is an awkward scene that seems to be there mainly to feed the audience information and I didn't believe in it for a moment, neither writing nor performance made it seem real. However, that may have been intentional, for this is a play that is about pretence and it is also one for which it is extremely difficult to find an appropriate style.
When a priest (Andy Solts) turns up bringing the wife (Amy Son) with him, the story takes another turn and then twists again for the husband says this woman is a stranger and not his wife at all. The husband calls the police and the inspector returns. What is he to believe? Is this a man with some psychological problem or is an impostor posing as his wife with the connivance of the priest? When the couple are alone it becomes clear that this is not his wife and an unsettling play of menace develops in which the husband tries to prove this is not his wife and that this is some sort of plot, perhaps to obtain an inheritance that is coming to his wife. The detective inspector seems sympathetic to the husband's argument but the others remove or refute evidence and witnesses. When will he realise that they are frauds?
As the plot lurches on through one contrivance after another into murder and corruption, the situation escalates with the husband grasping at new hopes of proving he's the victim of a criminal plot and not mad. Things seem in the realms of grand guignol or farce rather than a policier drama. The characters have no real existence outside the plot and instead of an unconvincing naturalism I began to wonder whether director Lydia Milman Schmidt should have tipped things more in the direction of those other genres. However, the plot has further twists before the end which such stylisation might undermine. Perhaps a more careful pacing and a better balance between restraint and full throttle histrionics would give more credence to the playing. Given that, strengthening this contrived tale, which certainly keep you wondering about the outcome, would be much more engaging.
At the Lion and Unicorn until 5th July 2009
Reviewer: Howard Loxton