Small west London pub theatre the Tabard has scored a coup in getting Natasha J Barnes for Tryst, its first in-house show after a refurbishment.
Barnes won rave reviews last year for her star-making performance as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl while Sheridan Smith took a break.
Here, Barnes is co-lead, playing Adelaide, a lonely, single woman working as a milliner in Edwardian London. She’s targeted by Fred Perry’s conman, George, who whisks her away for a fake marriage and a honeymoon fleecing. But the outcome isn’t what either of them expects.
Karoline Leach’s play – which debuted in the West End in 1997 – has the feel of an old-fashioned potboiler, flavoured with a hint of emancipation. There’s also something of the bleak faded quality of 1971 film 10 Rillington Place in Phoebe Barran’s chilly revival and Max Dorey’s abandoned-looking set, swathed in dustsheets.
This is a strange, slight play, intriguing in its twists but stilted by Adelaide and George’s frequent addresses to the audience. The ever-changing hues of Matt Drury’s lighting and David McSeveney’s ominous sound design create a queasy atmosphere. But they can’t hide the creaks of the plot contrivance on which the play is hinged.
Perry injects a tripping arrogance into his portrayal of George, while Barnes imbues Adelaide with an intelligence and desperate determination that pulls together an inconsistently written character. Their wary, damaged dance together elevates the material here, including a rug-pull ending that feels cheap.