Review - Switzerland, starring Phyllis Logan, at the Ambassadors Theatre
Patricia Highsmith brought a whole world of thriller and suspense into being when she created Tom Ripley. The five novels – known as the Ripliad – told of a cold, psychopathic murderer, and Joanna Murray-Smith’s new thriller Switzerland explores the similar world of the writer: definitely cold, certainly sociopathic, and probably capable of murder.
Highsmith’s most successful novels were the Tom Ripley series. She mastered the art of the anti-hero, and had her readers rooting for the sociopathic murderer. Born in Texas, brought up in New York, success took her around the world and hate the States. She spent her later years living alone in a secluded Swiss home, with her cats for company.
Chain-smoking at a bureau, atop of which a picture of Alfred Hitchcock stares down at her, Phyllis Logan brings a sharp bitterness to the woman who had described herself as ‘cynical, lonely, depressed and totally pessimistic’. Happy people are misguided, she suggests as she knocks back beers at 8 am, they ‘don’t ask enough questions’. Depression is default.
Cue the entrance of a plucky, young publisher from her US publishing house. A gawky, nervous, but determined man, he places a contract under Highsmith’s nose for one final Ripley, one last hurrah, and he won’t leave until she signs. Unlike the last publisher who came her way, after she stroked his neck with a knife while he slept.
Much of Joanna Murray-Smith’s play is your standard generation clash dialogue. Coffee is crap now, whatever happened to white bread, young people are too happy etc etc. Though Logan’s performance as the cruel writer is razor-sharp, it becomes more and more unsettling as she discusses her bigoted views on ‘Blacks, Latinos, the Portuguese and Catholics.’
Things become more sinister as the conversation turns to murder. Highsmith will only sign on the dotted line if Edward conjures up a fitting finale for her beloved character. They discuss the palpable excitement of the mechanics of murder, as she gives a tour of her knife and pistol collections adorning William Dudley’s set. Lucy Bailey’s production is clear, concise and clinical, all the drama occurs in the exchanges between these two characters.
As the play rattles on, Murray-Smith adds a metaphysical layer to the play which isn’t too hard to spot coming. It is a study of a writer’s relationship with their characters. They know them inside out, live their lives, and guide them through their story. When you’re a woman as lonely as Highsmith was, they’re often all you’ve got to fall back on.
Switzerland tickets are available now.