Intensely constructed psychological thriller keeps audience members guessing and engaged with developments.
David Rail is a successful lawyer and nobody’s fool. Alice is a psychologist, running a series of tests on him after an incident that has left him with suspected anterograde amnesia. He is lucid and coherent, but only for 15 minutes at a time. The twists start from the very beginning of Aidan Fennessy’s two-hander script, with David trying to establish his surroundings and assert his desires, before returning to a blank state and commencing the process over again. Alice remains smiling, detached and professional as she guides his answers each time. While her motivations seem sinister at first, as Alice obviously withholds information from her patient, as his lucid spells lengthen, she starts to share the circumstances of David’s admission to hospital. Once she begins, the twists come thick and fast, with references to Alice in Wonderland, the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Poe’s biography accompanying the rapidly-delivered revelations about the incidents at the eponymous House on the Lake.
Marthe Rovik as Dr Alice Lowe presents the committed professional, endlessly patient and innovating her methods to expand on her knowledge of David’s capacity, building as much of a relationship as she needs to extract further information. Rovik’s part is limited, partly a device to pursue David’s mental condition rather than a role on its own merits, but occasional flashes of the Alice behind the looking glass (as it were) intrigue and draw the audience in, wanting to know more about her motivations. Kenneth Ransom as David gives little away, keeping the audience guessing. His transitions from mental clarity to confusion are done precisely, not overly dramatically and with admirable consistency. Ransom could work with Director Stuart Halusz to add something to the character beyond David’s self-professed love of logic; as it is, his role is a cipher rather than a personality, a fascinating study rather than either an attractive or repulsive individual, which is a pity as it would enhance audience engagement to have the emotional side addressed as well as the intellectual puzzle posed by the script.
India Mehta’s set design is intimate, yet stark, the secure facility of a mental institution bringing its own dimension to events. The lighting is well-designed and devised by Trent Suidgeest, the shifting, changing quality of light coming through the rear windows strongly conveying the relative passing of time. The subtle small spot on the surveillance camera emphasises the intensity of the observation, a note that keeps the mood ominous. Rovik moves well with the set, using the basic furnishings to break up the potentially claustrophobic nature of the piece, and there is clever use of the ensuite as a way for David to develop his understanding between scenes.
An ambitious piece for Halusz’s directorial debut with Black Swan State Theatre Company, most of the potential of Fennessy’s dense script has been realised, with some scope for future development.
Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
The House on the Lake
by Aidan Fennessy
Director Stuart Halusz
Venue: Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, Perth Cultural Centre
Dates: 6 – 22 June 2014
Bookings: 1300 795 012 | ticketek.com.au