Review of Anthony Horowiitz’s Mindgame at the Ambassadors Theatre

Mindgame - photo credit Simon Cooper
Mindgame – photo credit Simon Cooper

After an amusing “please turn off your phone” message that set the scene, the Mindgame (or should that be Anthony Horowitz’s Mindgame?) curtain rose on an old-fashioned doctor’s office in Fairfields Hospital in Suffolk with the sound of bells and loud ticking clocks followed by a chilling scream. Amongst the props on the set, is a desk, some chairs, an odd photo on the wall of someone who could be a doctor or a professor and a view out of the window of a large, beautifully landscaped garden. Sitting on one of the chairs is a shaven-headed man dressed in t-shirt and jeans, who we soon learn in a lengthy monologue is Mark Styler, a writer of true crime books who is writing a book about one of the inmates at the hospital – for Fairfiields is an asylum for the criminally insane – and he’s there to interview Dr Farquhar about Easterman a brutal killer who’s incarcerated there.

So far everything looks normal as do Styler and Farquhar but Mindgame is billed as a psychological thriller and things aren’t as straightforward as they seem! Without giving too much away (no spoiler alerts needed), things on the set change in quite subtle ways as the plot develops. A door out of the office suddenly becomes a cupboard, the photo on the wall changes and most important of all, the view out of the window of the beautifully landscaped garden, gradually gets bricked up as the play progresses. Is the audience going mad as the changes happen or is it the writer, the doctor or the nurse? And are they really who they say they are?

Mindgame was written as a novel by Anthony Horowitz before being adapted for the stage in 1999 and after a run in Colchester, it transferred to the Vaudeville. This production, directed by Karen Hanson has been on tour around the country for the past few months and quite frankly, that’s probably where it should have stayed. It seems it’s only playing at the Ambassadors for three weeks because All Or Nothing closed earlier than expected and Pressure doesn’t start until June 6th – I presume the owners didn’t want the theatre to be dark for the weeks in between; so, the West End gets Mindgame which really isn’t West End quality. It’s the kind of play that used to be produced regularly in rep and as that doesn’t really exist anymore, it’s the type of simple, one-set play that now tours the provinces on a regular basis. It’s a bit of a clunky, pot-boiler that as well as being billed as a psychological thriller, is also described as a “black comedy”; the problem is that’s whilst there are few funny lines, it’s just not black enough and the thrills just don’t thrill enough.

The performances from Andrew Ryan as Styler, Michael Sherwin as Farquhar and Sarah Wynne Kordas as Paisley are fine and the direction from Karen Henson does the job but at no time does the play really grip the imagination. It becomes obvious that there has to be a twist somewhere and it eventually comes not with a bang (which the play needed) but with a whimper. I saw it coming just before it happened and thought it had been pretty obvious but my companion who reads lots of crime novels, didn’t! Although there are three characters in Mindgame, this is at heart a two-hander with Styler and Farquhar matching wits and sparring with each other both mentally and physically. Two handers can be taught and tight – Sleuth is probably the best example of the genre but Sleuth this isn’t, and I left the theatre disappointed having expected more from such a clever writer as Horowitz. It was like one of those nouvelle cuisine meals that look good on the menu but leave you feeling totally unsatisfied.

2 gold stars

Review by Alan Fitter

Mark Styler, a writer of glossy ‘true crime’ paperbacks, has no idea what he’s walking into when he tries to get an interview with Easterman, a notorious serial killer. First he has to get past Dr Farquhar, the quixotic head of Fairfields – the asylum where Easterman is kept.

But soon he discovers that nothing is what it seems. Who is the mysterious Borson? Where did he get the meat in the fridge? And why isn’t the skeleton in the closet?

Angela Browne Ltd in association with Tabs Productions
Proudly present
By Anthony Horowitz
Ambassadors Theatre
Tuesday, 15th May to Saturday, 2nd June 2018
Time: Mon to Sat – 7.30pm (Matinees – Thurs & Sat 3.00pm)

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