Arts Champion: Review of Mindgame by Sutton Arts Theatre

Mindgame is a stunningly deceptive thriller. In no way predictable, it keeps you guessing and questioning everything taking place mere metres in front of you until long after the last line of the play is uttered. Equally intense and intriguing, it will almost definitely mess with your mind… though, with a title like ‘Mindgame’ – you could say you have been fairly warned.

The novel was written by acclaimed author and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz in the 90s, and was adapted into a play soon after. In Mindgame Horowitz explores the social construct of insanity. Cleverly subverting our rather naive expectations with every chance he gets, he leaves us with a frightening and crippling revelation of a life that has been lost to and consumed by insanity.

A rather bold choice by Sutton Arts Theatre, I was intrigued to see what they could do with a thriller. Having known little to nothing about the play beforehand, which is my preference, I was keen to play detective; to see if I could accurately predict what would happen next… However, as the events unfolded on stage, it soon became clear that I, and the rest of the audience, were utterly powerless!

Mindgame is set in an asylum for the criminally insane, ironically called Fairfields (which sounds pretty nice), where Mark Styler (Joseph Flanagan), a famous writer, is hoping to interview the asylum’s most notorious inmate, Easterman. He meets head doctor Dr Farquhar (Ben Field), who, at first, seems determined to keep Styler as far away from Easterman as possible, and Nurse Paisley (Liz Webster) who seems rather concerned with the whole situation. There are characters that we see, and others that we do not; or at least, we can’t be sure that we have seen them (take that any way you like!).

With a clear, commanding voice and authoritative physical presence, Ben Field takes charge of the role of Dr Farquhar extremely well. The way Field shifts quite suddenly from his portrayal of an informative and rather comedic doctor, to chilling moments where he seems overcome with a bitter and utterly dark intensity, is inspired; his character becomes all the more intriguing for it. Can human emotions really make such a sudden switch? Is the person in front of us really who we think they are? Field’s portrayal forces us to ask these questions. Joseph Flanagan plays a convincing writer, both naively curious and yet persistent, he draws the audience in with his innocence. Appearing quite masterful at the start, and then slowly losing his control, he successfully reflects the insecurities and helplessness we all feel when we are confronted with circumstances that we have no power over and do not understand. Liz Webster as Nurse Paisley wonderfully highlights the vulnerable and fearful emotions crucial to the story. Calm and collected one moment, to frightened and excitable the next; Webster tackles all of these conflicting emotions with ease.

Sutton Arts Theatre has taken on what some might deem a very challenging play. Mindgame requires a lot to make it successful; from clever staging, to lighting, a multitude of sounds, insightful direction and careful casting. Three very skilled actors were needed to tackle three very complex roles, and they were most certainly found. A well-deserved hat tip to director, Vida Green, for having such a creative and energetic vision for this production. Congratulations to Sutton Arts Theatre, I am delighted with your choice, and indeed with just how well the production team and actors pulled it off. Now, if I could just decide what actually happened at the end, then that would be great… though I doubt that will happen!