Theatre Review - Psychodrama

It is some measure of Emily Bruni’s extraordinary performance that any discomfort caused by sitting in a large, Covid-secure basement (under the Kentish Town restaurant Never for Ever) wearing a mask, mid-summer, is swiftly forgotten.

Matt Wilkinson’s Psychodrama is a deliciously chilling revenge tale about an unnamed actress in her 40s who is accused of murdering an auteur theatre director. Wilkinson’s topical play, which he also directs, brilliantly captures the brutal reality for many middle-aged actresses working in an industry obsessed by youth, beauty and celebrity. It’s also very funny.

The actress briefly summarises a successful acting career in her twenties – when she was young and impossibly thin – through to her forties when the female parts started to dry up. She’s now forced to temp in a designer clothes shop, while waiting for her agent to ring.

When she is asked to audition for the part of Marion Crane in a theatre adaptation of Hitchcock’s iconic film Psycho, the actress is understandably excited. She dresses to impress, describing the clothes she wears in detail down to her choice of shoes.

The director, Peter, loves her, her agent claims afterwards but, it transpires, he only wants her to read with the other auditionees. He has his eye on a red-headed starlet. When it comes to casting, the actress notes drily, only the women have to audition.

Peter then raises her hopes once more by suggesting that they rehearse and work on character development together. She is invited to his hotel room.

Bruni sits on a bar stool in front of James Turner’s simple, wide cinema screen – enhanced by Elliot Griggs’ clever lighting design and Gareth Fry’s soundscape – and voices all the characters from her agent and fellow actors to the insouciant director. She sets a cracking pace over 60 minutes and her emotional unravelling is pitch perfect.

If this dazzling monologue play and Bruni’s star turn are not nominated for any theatre prizes this year, I’ll be very surprised.

Until July 3

Originally published in Camden New Journal