As the rebranded Chiswick Playhouse ends its first year, it returns to an earlier success from 2017, when it was still the Tabard Theatre. Tryst is a tightly written two-hander about the serial killer and bigamist George Joseph Smith, perpetrator of the so-called Brides in the Bath murders at the turn of the last century.
In Karoline Leach’s short play, George (Fred Perry) begins by detailing his technique for seducing ‘plain’ women and fleecing them of their savings. Adelaide Pinchin (Scarlett Brookes) at first seems like an easy touch, but his attentions stir something inside her.
The joy of Leach’s thriller is that the balance of power keeps shifting. There are some laughs along the way as well as a few red-herrings, as Leach delves into the psyche of each character as they lay out a possible future together.
Perry is compelling as the smooth, yet deeply unpleasant George, painting a lurid, convincing account of his career with his opening monologue. Brookes’ subtle physicality highlights Adelaide’s lack of self worth and innate vulnerability.
The result is a disturbing hybrid of love story and psychological thriller, that’s fascinating to watch and impossible to predict. The knowledge that Smith was a killer may lead an audience to second-guess the ending, but thanks to tight direction from Phoebe Barran and two gripping, unpredictable performances there’s still plenty of room for doubt.