When: 20 October- 5 November
Where: Dunstan Playhouse
How much: View pricing and buy tickets here
I was struck by the sensitivity and quiet strength of Carol when I first read the book, and similarly moved when I later saw Todd Hayne’s beautiful film. Because of this, when the opportunity arose to explore, through Switzerland, the bombastic persona and troubled psyche that was Patricia Highsmith, I couldn’t turn it down.
Switzerland not only wonderfully portrays the flawed and challenging woman Highsmith was renowned to be, but also meditates upon the purpose and power of writing. Having experienced so much restriction and lack of control in her own life, Patricia revelled in realising her fantasies on the page. In her books, Highsmith’s sexuality, deepest desires and most invasive thoughts were channelled to create unique and gripping thrillers.
This play transports the audience to Highsmith’s comfortable abode in the Swiss Alps, where she lives a reclusive existence with her typewriter and records. One ordinary afternoon, a young publisher (Edward, played by Matt Crook) calls upon our moody protagonist, pleading with her to create a final Mr Ripley story. The two are quickly swept up in a dialogue which is at times ridiculous, at times touchingly reflective, spanning subjects from the human fascination with death, to whether there’s anything wrong with an 8am beer. Though outwardly irate, one suspects Patricia is quite fond of, if not inspired by, this exciting intrusion into her lonely European hideout.
Sandy Gore completely inhabits Patricia’s multi-layered and introspective character, bringing her to life naturally and with appropriate intensity and humour. Crook is a charming and enthusiastic Edward whose youthful optimism contrasts well with Highsmith’s irreverence.
The warm and homey atmosphere of the loungeroom set is completed with a central (and apparently partially real!) fireplace. Wooden furniture, modern art and a collection of odd objects add an appreciated amount of detail which reflects Highsmith’s lengthy and tumultuous career. The mysterious and suspenseful music between scenes evokes a tension reminiscent of Highsmith’s crime fiction.
Switzerland is a tasteful celebration of a great author. Impressively, it is not without criticism or acknowledgement of her prejudices. This piece of theatre left me feeling wiser, in wonder of the experience of life, and with a newfound respect for those who attempt to preserve this wonder with the instrument of written words.
4 out of 5 stars