Printable CopySWITZERLAND
The State Theatre Company of South Australia
Dunstan Playhouse
Until 05 Nov 2017

Review by Anthony Vawser

Renowned Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith has concocted an imaginative speculation regarding the last days of Patricia Highsmith, set in the eponymous country where the famed creator of Tom Ripley died in 1995 at the age of 74. The reclusive, acerbic Highsmith is visited by an eager young fellow, a publishing rep whose presence she can barely tolerate but whose mission – to foster the birth of one more Ripley novel – she gradually accepts.

The brilliant-if-troubled figure of Highsmith is embodied on stage by Sandy Gore, one of this country’s most distinguished and appealing performers. Delivering Murray-Smith’s delightful, deliciously barbed bon mots with generally spot-on timing, Gore deserves to be commended for skilfully avoiding any shades of caricature, even if the energy level of her portrayal can dip on occasion. Matt Crook absolutely shines in a role whose depths and dimensions will probably take your breath away.

Director Nescha Jelk keeps the action flowing nicely while maintaining a balance between a comedic atmosphere and an ominous one. Ailsa Patterson’s set design presents a rather intriguing mixture of starkness and warmth, while Nigel Levings’ subtle and nuanced lighting is especially impressive.

Given the quality of the ingredients in “Switzerland”, why does it feel more akin to a light snack than a full meal? It’s not really the play’s brevity, nor the small number of cast featured, but more a nagging sense that the whole thing – even in its clever plot developments which this reviewer did not see coming – is just a bit too straightforward – visually, thematically, and psychologically - to rank as a truly memorable achievement.

When a piece of theatre is witty, well-paced, and lightly entertaining for most of its length, before it engineers a sly and satisfying subversion of the expectations it has built up within its audience, it would sound like a ‘sure thing’…and yet…and yet – “Switzerland” also falls short, somehow, of the heights it had seemed destined to reach, given the calibre of talent involved in its creation.