Rain falls, wolves howl in the woods, and a pianist plays an obscure, discordant composition by Erik Satie. Fully embracing an offbeat gothic tone, Crooked Dances is a flawed but beguiling mystery from author Robin French, whose background in comedy writing shines through in passages of observant humour that frequently puncture the show’s stuffier segments.
The story sees lifestyle magazine journalist Katy Porlock pinning her career prospects on an interview with reclusive virtuoso Silvia de Zingaro. Over the course of some excessively drawn-out conversations, mind-bending secrets about music and the nature of time begin to come to light.
It’s an absorbing if occasionally clunky descent into weirdness, held together by a strong and committed cast. Jeany Spark’s highly strung Porlock stands out, a satisfyingly complicated bundle of ambition, predatory assertiveness and twitchy energy.
By contrast, Ruth Lass is stately and austere as pianist De Zingaro, teasing her interviewer with hints of scandalous secrets that obfuscate the occult truths she’s uncovered.
Director Elizabeth Freestone commits to a deliberately slow pace, with each gradually unfolding scene intentionally testing the limits of attention, but building to a devilishly audacious twist.
Max Pappenheim’s moody sound design is omnipresent and oppressive, opening on a blurt of urban noise and later amplifying every incidental sound, from the metronomic ticking of a clock to the shrill interruptions of text-message notifications.
As the characters discuss the complete commitment needed to create art or work magic, this suite of auditory static constantly competes for our attention.