Chilling and unsettling must-see play at Leamington’s Loft

Craig Shelton (Dr Farquhar), Ruth Herd (Nurse Plimpton), and Roger Harding (Styler) in the Loft Theatre's production of Mindgame.
Craig Shelton (Dr Farquhar), Ruth Herd (Nurse Plimpton), and Roger Harding (Styler) in the Loft Theatre's production of Mindgame.

Mindgame, Loft Theatre, Leamington. On until Saturday February 2. Box office: 0844 493 4938.

SPINE-tingling and subtly unsettling, the Loft’s production of this thriller by Anthony Horowitz is extremely clever and thoroughly engaging. So engaging, in fact, that it manages to cross the personal boundary line between stage and audience - it actually plays games with your mind.

Director Darren Scott, who also composed the highly effective musical score for the play, describes it as being “beautifully crafted with multiple layers” and a “dark comedy” which is littered with “plot twists, shocks and surprises”.

He could not have described it better. We laugh nervously at various moments throughout the constant tension, apprehension and uncertainty. We are dropped clues at every turn as to what we might think will be the outcome - only to doubt our feelings when the next unexpected thing is said or done. This works well to bring a definite chill to the bone - but only because our imagination is being messed with, rather than because of a more obvious horrifying action.

The plot involves just three characters - crime writer Mark Styler (Roger Harding), Dr Farquhar (Craig Shelton), director of the Fairfields experimental hospital for the criminally insane, and his assistant Nurse Plimpton (Ruth Herd). Styler arrives at the hospital with the hope of interviewing serial killer Easterman so he can write a new book about him. But Dr Farquhar is reluctant to grant his request and Nurse Plimpton seems very anxious that he should leave immediately. The whys and wherefores unravel through the course of the play - then ravel themselves up again as more and more complications and twists arise.

Each actor conveys their emotions so convincingly that we in the audience actually fear for them or fear what will happen. Although the entire play takes place in one room and it is largely dialogue, the characters draw us in so we are gripped throughout, desperately trying to figure out what is happening and who we can trust. Scott says the cast and production team have researched serial killers and psychopaths to enable them to gain a better understanding of how such people might think and behave - and the result is testament to the hard work they have put in. I am left wondering whether they began to question their own sanity.

I also liked the use of lighting and subtle music for dramatic effect - although some of the lighting could have been toned down in certain places to an otherwise flawless psycho-thriller that will make anyone who sees it think their brains out both during and after the performance. Not to be missed.

Sundari Cleal