PATRICIA Highsmith, the American writer who died in Switzerland in 1995, is best known for her Ripliad, five books in which the central character is the amoral and conscienceless Tom Ripley.
A hiatus in her writing following the fourth book in 1980 predictably caused some consternation at her New York publishing house.
From there, Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith has woven her tense psychological drama Switzerland, on stage at Bath’s Ustinov Studio until 1st September. It stars Phyllis Logan as the difficult Highsmith, but if you are wanting to see the sweet, wry Mrs Hughes from Downton Abbey at close quarters, think again.
This barnstorming performance literally takes no prisoners. Highsmith is a bigoted, super-critical and downright peculiar woman who has shut herself in a house-cum-nuclear bunker in the mountains. She has no truck with American and what it has become (what WOULD she have thought of it now?).
So when an emissary from her publishers is despatched to sort out a previous misunderstanding with one of his colleagues – and to persuade her to write another Ripley novel – the scene is set for verbal, and probably physical, mayhem.
Played in one hit, with pauses, the clever story unfolds as the host and her visitor battle for ascendency on a see-saw of mind games and insults.
Both Phyllis Logan and Calum Finlay as her visitor are on stage almost all the time and even when there are laughs, the tension is rising and the questions mounting. How well you know Ripley, from the books or from the films, might colour your understanding of Switzerland.
But even if Tom Ripley is little more than a name to you, this entertaining play, directed here by Lucy Bailey for its UK premiere, is a clever and maze-like journey into the human psyche, and you never know what the next turn will uncover.
Footnote. Switzerland is transferring to the Ambassadors Theatre in London from 11th November to 5th January. For details, contact the theatre.