Tryst: A private, romantic rendezvous between two lovers, conducted with no one else’s knowledge. Perhaps they wouldn’t approve, perhaps they would recognise the affair for what it is – a predatory act from a man to con a woman out of her worldly possessions. That’s why George Love (Fred Perry) keeps his business a secret at least – Perry is a weasel, a smarmy character out only for himself and convincingly greasy in his underhanded intentions. He is less convincing as the faux romantic, a pretence to marry Adelaide Pinchin (Natasha J Barnes) and cheat her out of some inheritance. It’s meant to feel forced and false, but it doesn’t translate with conviction onstage.
Karoline Leach’s script Tryst is much stronger in characterising the darker façade to Perry’s personality, drawing strength from the intentionally transactional, anti-feminist language that rings all too clearly in the current climate. The hapless lover act feels incomplete, too settled in the past when the rest of Phoebe Barran’s production draws links between the 1900s and today’s imbalanced society. Regardless, Barnes falls for Perry’s platitudes, a performance that itself dwarfs and eclipses her counterpart. Barnes’ every reaction is layered, full of subtext and complex indecisiveness; her character wrestles with the quandary to either follow the strange man into the tantalising unknown, or continue on as a forgotten, mundane, back-of-the-shop worker with an insignificant life.
Barran’s vision allows the story room to breathe in all the right places. Vital moments are given the space they need to emotionally develop and as such Tryst keeps its audience attentive throughout. Whether feeling audibly disgusted at Perry’s turn of phrase, or intrigued by the recognisable shift in Barnes’ inner confidence, the whole production is a gradual transformation that only loses impact in its final moments. Given that the story is loosely based on truth, the final twist of fate is understandable. But it doesn’t dramaturgically fit in with its preceding journey, an unexpected decision that isn’t prepared for within the overall narrative.
Tryst is a complex layering of important issues, each of which slowly cracks and unpeels in tandem with Max Dorey’s dusty, shabby set. Body image; self-acceptance & self-worth; emotional bullying & the need for tenderness – all are subtly explored and probed with sensitivity by Barnes. Her performance is purposefully imperfect and as such has greater impact. As the play’s final destination slowly unfolds, her progression has the direction and clarity that is sometimes lost by her fellow actor. But the subtlety of Tryst is best highlighted by Barran’s handling of the text, a concept that, despite its setting, still feels relevant and fresh today.
Director: Phoebe Barran
Writer: Karoline Leach
Design: Max Dorey (set & costume); Matt Drury (lighting); Dave McSeveny (sound)
Cast: Natasha J Barnes; Fred Perry
Photos by Alastair Muir & Alastair Hilton
Tryst plays the Tabard Theatre until 5 November 2017. For more information or to book tickets, visit the website.