When troubled young Joe is saved from falling in front of a London tube train, his rescuer Sandor makes it clear: “I saved your life, so your life belongs to me now”.
So begins Gallowglass, a thriller from Ruth Rendell, which opened at The New Theatre, Cardiff tonight [Tuesday, January 30], as part of its world stage premiere tour.
Adapted from the novel, written by Rendell under her pseudonym Barbara Vine, it follows the manipulative relationship between these two young men, as Sandor’s storytelling of a captured princess develops into a real-life plot to kidnap the “most beautiful woman in the world”.
As we meet more characters, other complex relationships are explored – children and their absent parents, step siblings, kidnapper and victim, and people whose motivations may not be quite what they seem.
It’s never as fast-paced as it might be, but it builds an air of impending menace – the tension relieved by the occasional chuckle, often thanks to Rachael Hart, who brought to mind a Catherine Tate character, in her role as the livewire Tilley.
For a stage thriller, it’s quite complex – it’s adapted from a novel (and novels can handle complexity more easily) and has also been a TV mini-series.
At two hours forty minutes, this Middle Ground Theatre Company production, directed and designed by Michael Lunney, doesn’t outstay its welcome by any means, but this sort of twisty drama could benefit from being driven with more urgency.
Back projections and a split-set cleverly enable quick changes of scene, and a talented cast includes Joe Eyre, Dean Smith, Paul Opacic, Florence Cady, Richard Walsh and Karen Drury.
For fans of crime fiction and psychological drama, there is plenty here to provide a very rewarding night out. Gallowglass is at The New Theatre until Saturday. Information and tickets are available here.
Review by Andrew Weltch