I do like a good thriller and Ashley Holloway’s debut stage play, Lesere, a three-year labour of love which has just opened at Jermyn Street Theatre, certainly holds your attention.
It’s a psychological puzzle that is both thought-provoking and baffling. You’ll have half a dozen theatre-goers come out of a performance and each will give a different interpretation.
And that’s a good thing. Theatre should make you question and there’s absolutely nothing wrong in leaving some answers to the imagination. Who wants everything clear cut?
Sinister, tragic and with an air of forboding, Lesere is a story about guilt and the horrors of war – or rather the terrible repercussions of its sheer bloody violence.
While not a complete success this is, nonetheless, an engrossing drama with an electrifying central performance by Richard Atwill as George.
And who is George? Trying to solve that is probably a play in itself. An enigma? A deranged uninvited guest? Or a figment of the imagination of a man driven to the edge by his unspeakable actions in the trenches of the Somme?
There’s the first post-show debate in a nutshell.
Lesere is set in post WWI France where wife Jane sets up home to help her recovering soldier husband, John, recuperate from his injuries. It’s a rural idyll surrounded by the darkness of the real world beyond.
But while the physical symptoms have healed it’s clear that John Lesere is suffering far deeper psychological wounds.
John is haunted by past memories and the arrival of a mysterious stranger (in evening dress) serves as a catalyst that pitches the couple into a nightmare.
George wreaks havoc, playing husband against wife, with accusations on both sides. He knows far more about the pair than he should and he intimidates and cajoles until the Lesere’s neatly concocted life story, built on lies and fabrication, is blown apart in the most terrible way.
Atwill is terrifying as the demonic George, his dark eyes burning into the couple, the threat of violence never far away. He’s a wonderful protagonist.
Poor Leon Williams, as John, feels the full force of this unholy terror. John’s a complex character who, superficially, seems a pretty decent chap, a bit gormless, a touch naive, a man plagued by awful flashbacks – except the picture of innocence so deftly presented by Williams belies a darker beast.
The three-hander is completed by Cassandra Thomas giving a rather reserved turn as the wife. There were times when I couldn’t hear her and felt she needed to inject more energy into her performance.
I found the tuneless music rather intrusive and was irritated by the constant shifts in scene as the men moved from the present into their nightmares – at least I think that’s what they were doing. There was a whole lot of shakin’ going on.
But overall Holloway has created a creditable first play. He’ll, no doubt, have learned a lot from seeing it performed live in a small Off-West End theatre instead of having the luxury of seeing it edited and packed with special effects, for TV.
Lesere runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until August 1.
Lesere is a dark, puzzling, psychological thriller that keeps your attention throughout. It frequently raises more questions than it answers but the story is engrossing with an electrifying central performance by Richard Atwill as the mysterious George.