The House on the Lake

SBW Stables Theatre, May 20

Jeanette Cronin and Huw Higginson. Photo Brett Boardman

Jeanette Cronin and Huw Higginson. Photo Brett Boardman

Criminal lawyer David Rail (Huw Higginson) was supposed to be meeting his wife at their lakeside holiday home to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Instead he wakes up in a sparsely furnished hospital room with a locked door.

The last thing he remembers was working late on a brief at his office. So what happened? And how did he get here?

A psychologist called Alice (Jeanette Cronin) explains that he is displaying symptoms of a condition called anterograde amnesia, whereby he is unable to retain new memories, though his long-term memory is fine. (Guy Pearce’s character had the same condition in the film Memento).

Every 15 minutes or so, he forgets what has just happened, so as Alice works with him, they must keep starting again.

As they retrace David’s steps, teasing out fresh information, Australian playwright Aidan Fennessy weaves in new clues leading to a dark secret. To reveal any more of the plot of The House on the Lake would be a crime.

Fennessy’s taut two-hander is a gripping psychological thriller with a twisting kaleidoscope of scenes that spin around themes of lies and truth-telling as well as a trust-betrayal-revenge theory propounded by David. The fiercely articulate David, who is a great believer in logic, also (rather cockily) throws in some Edgar Allan Poe.

Fennessy’s tight script is cleverly written and feels well-researched, with the legal and psychological elements ringing true.

Kim Hardwick directs an absorbing production for Griffin Theatre Company, simply but eloquently staged on Stephen Curtis’s stark, suitably clinical, anonymous set. Martin Kinnane’s lighting and Kelly Ryall’s sound both make strong contributions to an excellent production.

Higginson is superb as David, giving a subtly shifting performance as more gradually comes to light and his condition slowly changes. Cronin offers strong support playing Alice with a brusque, inscrutable professionalism. Initially her performance feels very cold and abrupt but as the play progresses there are hints of something more.

The foyer was buzzing afterwards as people unpicked the play. Some had twigged early; others were surprised. But even if you had your suspicions about where the play was going, it didn’t spoil the experience.

Running 90-minutes, The House on the Lake is an intriguing puzzle of a play, brilliantly staged and hugely entertaining.

The House on the Lake runs at the SBW Stables Theatre until June 20. Bookings: www.griffintheatre.com.au or 02 9361 3817

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on May 24

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