Switzerland @ Southbank Theatre
Switzerland is a play based on the character and real life of Patricia Highsmith who is best known for her Ripley series of novels. An unusual and strong character, Joanna Murray-Smith had a generous and rich source to draw from in painting this intriguing genius of a writer in her play. Switzerland is where this play is set and where Highsmith spent the latter and last of her days, away from the America she came from and loathed. A powerful character study, Murray-Smith has cleverly constructed a thrilling, unsuspecting, witty, and relatable piece of theatre out of Highsmith's world.
Shamefully not knowing much at all about Patricia Highsmith, I was given both an education and a very personal tour of this extraordinary woman’s life and her work. Fortunately, Murray-Smith provides ample context within insightful dialogue that unfolds with purpose.
Performances by Sarah Peirse as Patricia Highsmith and Eamon Farren as Edward Ridgeway did not disappoint. Admittedly, Farren’s emotional textures seemed marginally forced,with his fellow actor Sarah Peirse providing a more believable embodiment of character. The pauses between the duo felt a little too considered. Running 1hour and 45 min without an interval, I began to wonder when the play was going to shift in mood. Before concern was able to creep in however, I was gripped by Farren who when forebodingly waltzing down some stairs made me sit up in my seat. The embodiment of Ripley, Farren really emerged and I saw for the first time in his performance why he was nominated for a Sydney Theatre Award nomination for the play. Electric fury and brutal containment of character made the last half of Switzerland by both performers un-missable.
Directed by Sarah Goodes, the direction was sharp, smooth and neat. The sign of great direction is no sign of it at all, besides a faint question mark over some choices in movement, Goodes with set and costume designer Michael Scott-Mitchell, lighting designer Nick Schlieper alongside composer and sound designer Steve Francis honoured Murray-Smiths work with clarity, style and sophistication.
Overall, Switzerland was greatly received by its audience with standing ovations and several curtain calls, with bravos sung from the back to the front of the theatre. A strong work from all involved and worth the dollar and change to see.
BY STEVIE ZIPPER
Image: Brett Boardman