by Anthony Horowitz

The x-ray of a brain

Tue 18 - Sat 22 October 2016 at 7.30pm
The Playhouse Theatre, Clare Street, Northampton NN1 3JA


Mark Styler William Portch
Dr Farqhuar Vince Perry
Nurse Paisley Gemma Knight

Director Pat Bancroft
Stage Manager Jo Molyneux
Assistant Stage Manager Ed Toone
Lighting & Sound Phillip Welsh
Set Construction Mark Mortimer
Set Effects & Painting Derek Banyard
Front of House Masque Theatre Members
Publicity Jen Kenny
Artwork Tamsyn Payne
Programme Design Jof Davies
Rehearsal Photographs Tony Janney

Review: 'An ingenious thriller'

Kevin Evans

As anyone who was lucky enough to see Mindgame, Anthony Horowitz's ingenious thriller plays devilment with the minds of both its characters and audience in many ways, and is one that can be really spoilt by wayward reviewing.

Set in a mental institution, true crime writer Mark Styler arrives at the gloriously named Fairfields with the intent of interviewing serial killer Easterman. In his way are hospital director Dr. Farquhar and Nurse Paisley.

First of all, the key requirement with a play such as Mindgame, with a small cast (in this case three) is absolutely nailing those actors in their roles, and director Pat Bancroft has selected them perfectly, as each of the three performers eases into their personas, and more importantly is able to adapt as their characters become different beasts as the play progresses (heading into spoiler territory now).

Balance of insanity

Vince Perry is particularly effective as Farquhar, arriving flustered and confused, and seemingly it later appears from a cupboard. He is impressive early on as the director, but perhaps more so later on as it is revealed to us by the close of the first act (and most of the audience will have got this by this stage) that he is actually Easterman. He keeps the balance of insanity perfect into the second act, which is also important with where the story eventually ends. He even just about makes the slightly strange pieces to the audience work and comments about farce. This is the only time that perhaps for me, the play strays dangerously close to being too silly.

As writer Styler, William Portch gives an assured performance from the outset, creating a developing character of some depth as he learns of his perils of his predicament at the hands of Easterman. His eventual collapse at the very end of the play leaves a lingering despair, but also with Horowitz's script, a still slightly open conclusion.

Stirring talking point

Finally completing the line-up is Gemma Knight as Nurse Paisley, who like the others goes through quite a transfer of character as the play evolves. All are distinctive, from the nervy but also cold original, through to the confident, crisp final persona. It is, like all three performances, believable and makes this a very well acted production.

Direction from Pat Bancroft, stage management from Jo Molyneux and assistant Ed Toone, and tech from Philip Welsh is mostly perfect (with ambition comes sometimes problems, but it's best never to play it safe). The set becomes alive itself during the show and is cleverly done on the small Playhouse stage. Also an ingenious projection brings an extra bit of ambition and professionalism to the production and provided quite a stirring talking point in the audience as the realisation dawned.

Superbly acted, cleanly and unobtrusively directed and with a clearly hardworking back stage crew making things happen, has produced one of the best of the recent Masque productions. Excellent stuff!

Preview: 'A gripping psychological thriller'

Pat Bancroft | director

The author Anthony Horowitz is probably best known as the creator of TV's Foyles War and as a collaborative writer for Poirot, Murder in Mind, Midsummer Murders and his major film Stormbreaker.

With this experience behind him, he has just been chosen to write more of television's Sherlock series, but his first love is writing for the stage and Mindgame is one of his best.

Shocking conclusion

A gripping psychological thriller, with jet black comedy, that twists its way to a shocking conclusion.

Mark Styler, a writer of glossy ‘true crime’ paperbacks, arrives at Fairfields, an experimental asylum for the criminally insane, to try and get an interview with the notorious serial killer Easterman which will enable him to write his next book about the man and his gruesome murders.

Dr Farquhar, the head of Fairfields, is unhelpful and quixotic, and Styler finds things increasingly unnerving and odd, even the nursing staff appear uneasy.

Puzzle box

Is Nurse Paisley as odd as she seems? He has no idea what he has walked into. Will they let him see Easterman? Who is Borson? This puzzle box of a play will keep you ‘wrong footed’ to the very last page.

There is a great cast that welcomes back Vince Perry as Dr. Farquhar, and Wilf Portch as Mark Styler, with Gemma Knight joining them as Nurse Paisley.

Apparently undaunted by this challenging piece of gripping theatre, all three seem happy to have their psyche prodded and teased into mindgames. What have they let themselves (and you) in for?

Note: Horowitz is also known for his teenage Secret Agent Alex Rider books, but this play is definitely not suitable for children.

Flyer for Mindgame

Masque Theatre's production is directed by long-time member Pat Bancroft, whose shows for the group include A Man For All Seasons (2013), Someone Who'll Watch Over Me (2010), Reader (2005) and Blue Remembered Hills (2000)