28 May 2024

by Hannah Wilcox

Kirribilli’s Ensemble Theatre comes to life yet again with Joanna Murray-Smith’s gripping psychological thriller, Switzerland.

For 90 minutes, audience members follow the dynamic of reclusive writer Patricia Highsmith (played by Toni Scanlon) and an intriguing young man from her publisher’s office – sent to coax out a final edition of the famed Mr Ripley series.

Located in an isolated cabin in the Swiss Alps, Patricia begins to lose her grip on reality as the evening unfolds.

First off, Scanlon and Laurence Boxhill’s performances must be commended.  

The energy and dedication they brought to the roles was superb, embodying the tense and rapidly changing dynamic between the pair.

This, alongside the intricate set details from the messy writer’s desk to the well organised gun cabinet on the back wall, made for a holistic introduction to Murray-Smith’s worldspace.

Unfortunately, the actors’ attempts at maintaining an American/transatlantic accent were faulty at times with Australian and English pronunciations often noticeable. 

The majority of the play is uninterrupted monologuing between the two characters. This, alongside weak attempts at comedy and the unnecessary addition of explicit language, detracted from the storyline’s wittiness and overall production value.

The addition of music or further engagement with the detailed set could have added to viewer immersion.

Tension was extremely well created and well-paced in the final scene; with a surprising dramatic twist.

By playing God and inserting herself into her own fictional world, the show ends with the author being stabbed to death by a knife from her own prized collection. 

The use of ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ dramatic technique was well utilised in Switzerland, with the mirror polished blade originally a gift from the young man to fulfil a demand from Patricia. 

Although unimportant at first, it circles around to signify the human fascination with murder and violence – a mirror reflecting our own societal fascination with darkness.

“No one was as good as Highsmith at exposing the nuances of the criminal mind and packaging them in such a way as to excite and incite the moral ambivalence of the reader,” the writer’s note read.

“Horrified by her stories, as readers we are seduced into wanting their evil protagonists to get away with their murderous plans.”

Highsmith is accredited by director Shaun Rennie for being the only author in modern times to pull off complete corruption of the reader – and in Switzerland, of herself.

Tickets are available online starting at $88 for adults and $81 for pensioners. 

Switzerland will be showing at the Ensemble until June 8.