A spotlight reveals a solitary figure. The darkness recedes and we see he is in an office. Waiting. In fact, he’s in a notorious facility for the criminally insane. A visitor, as far as we know. A successful writer called Styler, whose real-life murder books are best sellers. He’s here to interview Easterman, the ruthless serial killer. But first he needs permission from Dr Farquhar. And the quixotic head of the asylum will put Styler through some bizarre and unnerving hoops.
The play is titled ‘Anthony Horowitz’s Mindgame’. That’s right, the well-known writer who created Alex Rider, Foyle’s War and Midsomer’s Murder. That gives you an idea what to expect.
On this occasion, he’s serves up two hours of tense thriller. Is Farquhar who he says he is? Why does the bedraggled and frightened nurse want Styler to leave urgently? As the story develops, Styler allows himself to be tied up in a straightjacket. Like you do. And this proves to be only his first ordeal of the night.
The play’s core preoccupation is with the psychiatric care for those guilty of violent crimes. Are they mad or bad? Horowitz has done his research, name dropping the more famous psychiatrists. Socrates gets quoted. Treatments such as psychodrama are weaved into the plot.
The play focusses on wordplay and verbal sparring between the two men, as each delves into the other’s dark secrets, quid pro quo. But neither has Hannibal Lector’s scalpel-sharp insight. Neither has the witty dialogue of Peter Shaeffer’s Sleuth. There a couple of twists. You may well see both coming.
Have the lunatics taken over the asylum? Or just the theatre? You decide.
Mindgame plays at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal from Tuesday June 11 2019 to Saturday June 15 2019.