Alys, Always at the Bridge Theatre: A tale of telling rather than showing
Carleigh Nicholls reviews Alys, Always at the Bridge Theatre, a new psychological drama based on Harriet Lane’s successful novel.
“Someone’s got to be successful! Why not me?” a character proclaims early on in Alys, Always, and sub-editor Frances (Joanne Froggatt) takes this exclamation to heart. Nicholas Hynter directs the Bridge Theatre’s adaptation of the psychological thriller based on the novel by Harriet Lane. On the surface, everything in this production works. The acting is tight, the sets are sleek, and the transitions are spotless. But there’s something missing: for a so-called thriller, the mystery isn’t all that compelling, and Frances’ interactions with the Pyke family are just awkward to watch. And not in a provocative way. Although the production is technically good, the final product feels somewhat hollow.
Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey fame plays Frances, an under-appreciated and over-worked sub-editor in the books section of a Sunday newspaper. However, her luck starts to change after spotting an overturned car on the side of the road. She stays with the ill-fated driver, Alys, until the ambulance arrives. Later learning that Alys’ husband is the famous author Laurence Kyte (Robert Glenister), she slowly ingratiates herself into the family, exploiting this connection to succeed in her career and social life.
The major problem with this production is that the characters feel rather lifeless and underdeveloped, especially Frances. Having not read the novel, I don’t know if this is a result of Lucinda Coxon’s stage adaptation, or if it’s due to the source material itself. Nonetheless, it is hard to care about the characters in this play. Throughout the play, Frances recites inner monologues, almost like film voice overs, showcasing how her thoughts contrast with her actions. However, these monologues are somewhat stuffy, and this process of telling rather than showing highlights the lack of connectivity with the character.
While the play may lack feeling, it definitely looks good. Bob Crowley’s production design and Luke Halls’ video design must be commended. The set is minimal with a semi-transparent cube in the background on which video projections help create the setting. From the car accident, to a church, to a garden, these images help create smooth transitions. The cube opens and new sets and props glide to the front. The production design is smooth and modern. Christina Cunningham’s costume design also works well, especially highlighting Frances’ changing demeanour. From cardigans and chunky boots, to high heels and skirts, her costume changes reflect Frances’ growing confidence.
Working with the material she has, Joanne Froggatt does a good job as Frances. Transitioning from a quiet office lackey, to a confident provocateur, Froggatt remains convincing throughout the production. Glenister’s Laurence is likeable, and you can believe that women would fall for him. In her professional debut, Leah Gayer plays Polly Pyke, and her character is a standout. Shallow, emotional and bubbly, Gayer brings much needed energy to this production.
An evening out attending Alys, Always is no doubt enjoyable. However, you won’t necessarily be thinking about the play afterwards. As Frances’ editor Mary states, “at times like this, what it looks like is everything.” It would appear that this production has taken this advice too seriously. While it certainly looks good, it feels rather empty.
Alys, Always will be playing at the Bridge Theatre until March 30, 2019. An allocation of tickets at £15 are available for those aged under 26 as part of the the Young Bridge Scheme. See here for more information: https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/membership/
Feature and production photographs: Helen Maybanks.