Alys, Always

Review - Alys, Always at the Bridge Theatre

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

Another day, another middling (and very middle-class) new play at the Bridge. Great things were expected for this theatre, founded by Nick Hytner and Nick Starr after they departed from the National Theatre, which they had turned into the single most exciting theatrical address in London. But at the opening night of Alys, Always, I ran into a prominent younger British playwright who told me he was making his first visit to the venue - and I replied, "You've not missed much."  (There was one unmissable show - Laura Linney in My Name is Lucy Barton - and a good promenade Shakespeare in Julius Caesar).

Unfortunately, this play joins the also-missable ranks. Here's another predictable (and sometimes far-fetched) drama set amongst the glitterati of London's literati - the people who write the books and those whose career it is to review them. Frances toils on the (surprisingly well-staffed) books desk of a Sunday newspaper called The Questioner as a lowly sub-editor (and general dogsbody) to the literary editor Charlotte.

But then life - or fate - takes a turn, and driving home in the fog from her parents' country home she bears sole witness to a fatal car accident. The victim is the wife of one of London's leading literary figures, Laurence - whose latest book, dedicated to his late wife, is about to the published. Frances's own professional and personal lives will suddenly collide, in every sense.

And suddenly, just weeks after the West End stage version of All About Eve opened, we're in Eve Harrington territory, as she inveigles herself, unwittingly at first, into Laurence's family, striking up a friendship with his daughter Polly, then a furtive sexual relationship with Laurence himself.

The newspaper office is portrayed in parallel to this, with its own narcissistic, self-important and alcoholic cast of characters, in which Frances also vaults herself up the career ladder.

But Lucinda Coxon's play, based on a novel by Harriet Lane (herself a one-time Observer journalist), doesn't have anything like the layered, bruising psychological insight of All About Eve - and neither does Hytner's show have the directorial flare of Ivo van Hove, either. Though there's a little technological wizardry in the video projections by Luke Halls, it's not as interactive as van Hove's (created with his long-term professional partner Jan Versweyveld).

What it does, have, however - and makes it consistently watchable - are gripping performances from Joanne Froggatt as the fast-climbing Frances and Robert Glenister as the man she becomes so enamoured with and beholden to.

Alys, Always is at the Bridge Theatre until 30th March. 

Originally published on

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