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

On the Shore of the Wide World

SBW Stables Theatre, Sydney, January 13

Huw Higginson and Amanda Stephens-Lee. Photo: Rebecca Martin

Huw Higginson and Amanda Stephens-Lee. Photo: Rebecca Martin

In 2012, Anthony Skuse directed pantsguys Productions’ award-winning indie production of Punk Rock, written in 2009 by UK playwright Simon Stephens.

Now, Skuse directs Stephens’ 2005 play On the Shore of the Wide World for pantsguys and Griffin Independent – and it’s another memorable production.

Set in Stephens’ native Stockport, a town in Greater Manchester, the play tells the story of three generations of the suffering Holmes family over the course of nine months.

Peter (Huw Higginson) and Alice (Amanda Stephens-Lee) are muddling along OK but are hurt and upset when their teenage son Alex (Graeme McRae) and his new girlfriend, the spunky Sarah (Lily Newbury-Freeman), want to escape to London. Meanwhile, their sweet but odd younger son Christopher (Alex Beauman) is instantly smitten with Sarah.

Living nearby are Peter’s alcoholic father Charlie (Paul Bertram), who has a close relationship with his grandsons, Christopher in particular, and Charlie’s nervous wife Ellen (Kate Fitzpatrick).

Christopher catches his grandparents unawares one day and is rocked. Then a sudden tragedy forces buried emotions, shame, secrets and regrets to the fore and the family find themselves confronting and opening up to each other as they struggle to find a way to move forward together.

Running three hours including interval, the first act is a slow burn but the second act flies as the emotion builds.

Skuse directs a quiet, beautifully measured, subtle production, in which the actors often stay on stage to watch scenes they aren’t in, the compassion in their eyes intensifying the emotion.

There are excellent performances all round from a cast that also includes Jacob Warner as Alex’s drug-dealing friend Paul, Emma Palmer as a comparatively posh, pregnant publisher who employs Peter to renovate her home and develops quite a bond with him, and Alistair Wallace as John who meets Alice as a result of the tragedy.

Higginson (well-known from ten years playing PC George Garfield in The Bill) is a stand-out though with a heartbreakingly portrayal of the loving but emotionally inarticulate Peter. An engrossing, moving drama.

On the Shore of the Wide World runs at the SBW Stables Theatre until February 1. Bookings: www.griffintheatre.com.au or 02 9361 3817

An edited version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on January 19