It’s always going to be a challenge to adapt a play from a novel but Lucinda Coxon’s Alys, Always just about gets away with it. A superb performance from Joanne Froggatt – narrating and playing lead character Frances Thorpe – holds the play together, Leah Gayer as Polly is excellent, her fickle “friendship” with Frances comes across well and Robert Glenister’s Laurence gives us a wonderfully assured performance.
Frances Thorpe is the underling on a newspaper’s book desk: patronised by her colleagues and constantly overlooked by her boss. However, after arriving on the scene of a fatal accident whilst driving home to London one night, she unwittingly gets a glimpse at a previously unimaginable lifestyle of success and privilege. When she later meets the grieving family, she lies about their mother’s last words, and so begins her journey into ambitious greed and deceit.
The lie never goes away, and we can never completely sympathise with Frances as she becomes more confident and more ambitious. By the start of Act Two she is practically unrecognisable in her high heels, the designer blouse replacing her old top, and makeup, stolen from a family member’s handbag, completing the transformation.
The set is good; the use of videos and photographs work well enough and I liked the way that the office rolls out to meet the narrating Frances.
The adaption from novel to stage does give the play a clunky feel; some parts seem a bit wooden and the first act especially has a lot of the book’s dialogue crammed in and this leads to the ending becoming hurried. The gags at times feel shoe-horned in and Frances’ parents are lazily played as 70s Northern stereotypes.
Overall Alys, Always is a good play. If you liked the novel, you will like the play.
Review by Michael Stephenson
Frances works on the books’ pages of a Sunday newspaper. She’s quiet and capable, but nobody takes much notice: her face is pressed to the window, on the outside, looking in. One evening, driving back to London after visiting her infuriating parents, she comes across an upturned car crumpled on the side of the road. She waits with the injured driver, Alys Kyte, until the ambulance arrives. Later, when Alys’s famous family gets in touch, Frances finds herself for the first time ushered into the world on the other side of the window. And she begins to wonder: what would it take to become a player? A gripping psychological thriller that excavates the fault line that separates the entitled from the unentitled.
Directed by Nicholas Hytner, Lucinda Coxon’s new play Alys, Always based on Harriet Lane’s novel of the same name is playing at the Bridge Theatre until Saturday 30th March 2019.
The cast comprises Joanne Froggatt (Frances), Robert Glenister (Lawrence), Danny Ashok (Sid), Joanna David (Charlotte), Leah Gayer (Polly), Simon Manyonda (Oliver), Sylvestra Le Touzel (Mary/Audrey), Jeff Rawle (Robin/Mr Thorpe), Vineeta Rishi (Julia Price), Sue Wallace (Mrs Thorpe) and Sam Woolf (Teddy).
Set designs are by Bob Crowley with costume designs by Christina Cunningham, lighting by Jon Clark, music by Grant Olding, sound by Gareth Fry and video designs by Luke Halls.
3 Potters Fields Park, London, SE1 2SG
Until Saturday 30th March 2019