(Seen at the afternoon performance on 3rd March 2018).
Sometimes a single actor transcends performance and simply becomes a person
evoking primal response from an audience. The monkey can say, in complete
safety, that given the chance it would cheerfully kill Ralph (Jason Watkins). It
also knows no jury would convict, based on the evidence - and that 99% of the
audience would assist without even being asked.
The moments that Ralph spends lovingly cataloguing his collection of child -
no, not even child, he's besotted by the baby tape - pornography is as chilling
as any the monkey has witnessed in over 30 years of theatregoing. Luckily, it
was hemmed in on row D centre, and couldn't really get at the stage...
It is what this chilling monster does to Rhona, 10 year old daughter of Nancy
(Suranne Jones) that is the spine of the plot, the dissection of his psychology
and motives by New York doctor Agnetha (Nina Sosanya) the sub-plot.
The first half is perhaps the stronger of the two, though early Agnetha
scenes seem almost redundant at the time. The second may appear to meander, but
its conclusion is, on one level a heartbreaking jolt of reality. Writer Lavery
has the courage not only to write chilling characters but also appear to turn on
her own creation at the end for the important sake of making an even bigger
Utterly compellingly evil Watkins performance aside, Sosanya is an
interesting psychiatrist. Her lecturing manner and interactions with Watkins
reveal a subtle and interesting warmth on stage, a final gesture well-executed,
a final scene immaculately timed.
By comparison, Jones is large and unsubtle. Her scenes are pounded out,
banner emotions and plot-lining almost all the way. It doesn't help the rhythm
of some lines in her multiple solo scenes. Yet, towards the end when she has
other characters to interact with, her toned-down moments hint just how
good the rest of her evening might have been. It's early in the run, and the
monkey feels Ms Jones will get the 'feel of the house' and re-size accordingly
as the play beds in. It hopes so.
In minor roles, young Clara Read has a nice stage presence, and both John
Hastings and Roisin Rae do suitable work in the prison service.
Times may have moved on a little, and this play perhaps is a little long and
maybe even unbalanced in wrapping a final sub-plot. Still, the subject has the
power to chill, and Jonathan Munby directs with speed on a clever set by Paul
Wills. It's less demanding emotionally than similar later work like "The
Nether," but more accessible too. Watkins is worth the ticket price alone, and
this play should be quite high on the list for those seeking more substantial
West End dramatic fare. Four stars.