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THE CONTORTING POWER OF FEAR

Print Version

Psychopaths
written & directed by Thomas Sainsbury
Fingerprints & Teeth Productions

at The Shed 10 (enter 77 Cook St), Auckland
From 2 Feb 2010 to 7 Feb 2010

Reviewed by Lillian Richards, 3 Feb 2010


Thomas Sainsbury wrote this play – one of many, many, many – about the entrenched fear that pervades every day living, after his brief stay in New York. In this era of wars waged on notions of faulty logic, the influence of fear in our lives is a crucial one, fruiting paranoia and the very real threats that lurk within the hyperbole.

It is a fine line we walk, torn as we are between ideas and reality; between what's justified and what's a fiction devised to control us.

A psychopath is defined as someone suffering from a mental disorder that results in their being a danger to others. This derangement is of constant interest to us as a species. We adore the adrenaline rush of imagined interactions and near misses with such creatures. Not many (I say this instead of ‘no-one' because I can't get out of my head the guy who answered the German's ad asking for a person willing to be eaten) would be naive enough to want such an interaction in reality.

So Sainsbury has tried his hand at this adrenaline seeking frenzy by writing a script which attempts to capture our darker imaginings. Similar to his work in Beast (where a family trip is hijacked by the dark secrets of a small town's murderous tendencies), Psychopaths draws on a recognisable dynamic, though this play is more sitcom, perhaps, than drama, and where Beast had elements of real tension, Psychopaths is more a low hum melodrama.

The realistic set design creates an entire NY apartment with art and posters of Native American commandments. There are sofas and benches, a working door (which features heavily: will it open? Who will be behind it?). As such it is immediately engrossing.

The main plot is a pretty tired narrative: new comer to NY fears the high crime rate and succumbs to the propaganda of fear only to have it realised with a break-in that implies worse to come.

The newcomer, Amy, is played by Morgana O'Reilly whose natural charm and awkward grace on stage is a pleasure to watch; O'Reilly is a talented actress who lavishes her character with believable ease.

Andi Crown plays the black-wearing pseudo artistic flatmate with some good one-liners, and she does so with skill and great comedic timing, though the script is somewhere between drama and comedy and doesn't ever really realise either.

Todd Emerson as Tony the neighbour (who owns what one presumes must be a fictional café / bar because of his overt weirdness), is truly wonderful. Emerson shone last year in a supporting role in The History Boys and hasn't looked back. His work as Tony has a depth that wasn't necessarily present in the script but which is of Emerson's making, most likely encouraged by great direction from Sainsbury.

Dena Kenedy plays the female cop who comes to Amy's aid. She takes the description of her assailant with a harsh TV detective air that makes sense in this drama type setting. Roberto Nascimento plays a bit role as the cop's sidekick, sniffing out the flat for any details otherwise unrecorded.

Dwayne Cameron (The Tribe) couldn't quite seem to decide if he was French or Mexican on opening night but managed to choose French a wee way in and from there on plays a relatively believable foreigner in NY who becomes enamoured of Amy.

Psychopaths, though not fraught, tense or tight enough to be a thoroughly convincing drama and not a dedicated comedy either (which is arguably where Sainsbury's strength lies as a playwright), is more a slow-burning look at how our lives can be contorted by fear, both real and imagined.

The true depth of this subject remains unplumbed here. But for an evening out, the ambience of the venue, the quality of the cast and the detail of the set design, Psychopaths offers something you're unlikely to find elsewhere.

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 Caoilinn Hughes