Review: Twisted Tales – Lyric Hammersmith ****

A glowing clock face hangs in mid-air; smoke fills the auditorium; a train carriage jolts out of the darkness and comes to a halt downstage. Certainly a fascinating and eerie start to an evening of stories that are most definitely twisted.

The train, where three sturdy bowler-clad Englishmen make their daily commute, is the setting that links each of the short tales, which is in itself one of the stories – a version of Dahl’s “Galloping Foxley”. This framing should be a clever device but it doesn’t quite manage to form a clear narrative.

In the main, the stage is bare and black. Each scene then jumps into life with the appearance of some brilliant and beautifully crafted props – the dentist’s chair is a particular favourite. These combined with the ingenious lighting and clever sound design from James Farncombe and Nick Manning, make time and place instantly clear. However, the transformations between said scenes are sometimes sloppy and a little rushed. It feels like this piece wants and needs to flow effortlessly, with each story appearing and disappearing as if by magic. Instead, there is a somewhat clunky revolve, which often lets down Naomi Wilkinson’s otherwise inventive design. Perhaps with a little more time, such issues will be addressed.

This piece is at it’s best when the comedy and horror are played in the extremes, side by side.

There is some lovely work from the six-strong ensemble who are required to play four or five characters each, switching immediately between them; on the whole, they succeed with flair. Nick Fletcher stood out with his utterly truthful portrayal of the creepy South American addicted to winning the little fingers from unsuspecting tourists. His comic timing was spot on as he raised his cleaver again and again, the tension palpable! Selina Griffiths was equally strong, creating a bold mix of characters from evil-old-landlady to manipulative mistress, filling each of them with ease.  Lovely work too came from Trevor White as the manic scientist; frighteningly convincing with his doctorly talk of removing the human brain. This contrasted well with the rather more refined and charismatic stranger, mysterious in his panama. The three younger members of the company also did well. George Rainsford had a particularly enjoyable exuberance about him, often adding to the fizzing dramatic tension of the piece. Again, there was a distinct contrast between his menacing public schoolboy and his loud-mouthed jubilant American. Alexandra Maher was a lovely presence, though she had perhaps the toughest job – her parts were smaller than most and potentially less defined. Choices could have been bolder, more playful; especially given the size and energy of the other characters on stage. She did however have some memorable moments where she scuttled out as a pawn-broker, shop in tow, and another as a somewhat self-satisfied dental nurse.

On the whole, there is much more dark humour and terror to be gleaned from this text. The weird chill of Dahl is often missed – a shame given the theatricality of his work. This piece is at it’s best when the comedy and horror are played in the extremes, side by side. In those rare moments, the hairs on the back of the neck stand up, the atmosphere thickens, and the audience really do jump out of their seats.

**** 4 stars
Runs until 26th February
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