Tryst, Tabard Theatre

George Joseph Smith was a petty thief and con man who preyed on the most vulnerable women he could find. He would win their love, persuade them to elope, then strand them on their honeymoon after cleaning out their bank account. In exchange, these women who were lonely and insecure, would have a wedding night of bliss. He thought this was more than fair.

In light of of recent exposure of high-profile abusers, it would be easy to believe that these offences were relatively contemporary. Alas, men have treated women badly no doubt since the dawn of time, and this particular character is based on a real one operating in the early 1900s. Karoline Leach’s two-hander doesn’t claim to recreate history, but the knowledge that this character is inspired by someone that actually roamed the earth is chilling.

Natasha Barnes easily shows her phenomenal talent in a character with two distinct facets to her personality. Though Adelaide has a roughly hewn major transition, Barnes handles it with subtlety and control. Her use of detailed physicality to convey struggle is hard to parallel.

The script has some clumsy moments of progression, with Barnes’ character at the mercy of the most unconvincing of them. The plot development has an irregular, juddery pace, and chunks of it feel too unrealistic. Director Phoebe Barran has an excellent sense for finding the rhythm of individual moments – nothing is rushed, with meaning and tension given space to breathe and resonate.

Though the text is notable more for it prescience than its craft, Barnes’ performance alone is worth seeing. The story itself is reasonably interesting, even if the script doesn’t fully serve its potential.

Tryst runs through 5 November.

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