Laurence  Boxhall and Toni Scanlon in SWITZERLAND. Pic Brett Boardman

Joanna Murray-Smith’s SWITZERLAND is a gripping fictional two hander. The play pits the brilliant, irascible crime writer  Patricia Highsmith who is living in her retreat in Switzerland with Edward a young man from her publishing house who visits her to try and persuade her to write another Mr Ripley novel.

At times, their meeting  is very acrimonious. Highsmith shows little regard for Edward who she sees as a boy and a stooge for her publishers. She wants him to leave but he just won’t budge. She ends up showing him her much treasured cabinet featuring her collection of guns and knives that she has accumulated over the years. One can’t help but feel that this display has a portentous, ominous quality to it.

SWITZERLAND is a good example of theatre noir, a genre that clearly director Shaun Rennie relishes and he comes up with a super tight production that grips the audience. The work  of his creative team, Veronique Benett’s  excellent set and  lighting design, Kelsey Lee’s costume design, Linda Nicholls-Gidley’s dialect coach work and Nigel Poulton’s intimacy and fight direction  combine together to produce the noir world for the actors to work in.

One of our finest actresses, Toni Scanlon can now add the role of Patricia Highsmith to her list of credits. Highsmith is cantankerous,  controversial, outspoken, racist, always up for a fight.  It’s a juicy, meaty role and Scanlon nails her.

As  Edward, Laurence Boxhall’s character takes a bit of time to get going. He starts off  being very pleasant and gushing, a pushover for Highsmith, but then darker aspects to his character begin to surface, and from there Boxhall’s fine performance takes off.

As well as providing audiences with a theatre noir experience, it also felt as if Murray-Smith was inviting us to look in to some of the quirks and processes of being a creative writer.  After all, she is writer channeling another writer.

SWITZERLAND was a good night at the theatre. I did feel as if there was a bit of a shadow cast over it with the recent spate of violence events that have taken place in Sydney. Hearing Highsmith’s penchant for violence felt a bit uncomfortable and distressing. Sadly, theatre companies are not immune to the news cycle and as per the old show business dictum, the show must go on!

Joanna Murray-Smith’s  SWITZERLAND, in a production directed by Shaun Rennie, opened at the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street Kirribili and is playing until the 8th June 2024.

Running time : 90 minutes without interval.

Production photography by Brett Boardman.



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