Review: The House on the Lake, Griffin Theatre Co

The House on the Lake, a fine, twisting thriller by Aidan Fennessy, has opened at Griffin’s SBW Stables Theatre following a season in Perth. In the play, David (Huw Higginson) and Alice (Jeanette Cronin) each try to un-knot the truth of one evening when, we know, something traumatic occurred.

David has amnesia, the kind that affects his short-term memory, and over the course of several visits from Alice, he struggles to remember anything about his life, let alone Alice herself and her repeated promises that he is safe in the room and with her. David is a lawyer, a workaholic who worries about briefs and stays late on the eve of his anniversary with his wife to focus on his job. His wife — well.

Cronin and Higginson in The House on the Lake. Photo by Brett Boardman.
Cronin and Higginson in The House on the Lake. Photo by Brett Boardman.

With a dash of whodunit and a careful, repeated setup of facts and clues, The House on the Lake is a solidly-constructed piece of mystery theatre that may not be the most exciting, but is sturdy and reliable. It’s the sort of play that fits nicely into the space of the Stables; its small stage can border on cramped, which highlights the play’s working themes of isolation, entrapment, and confrontation. The set (by Stephen Curtis) gives space for the actors to do their work (though the lighting, by Martin Kinnane, is notably dynamic, yet never intrusive), and this really is an actor’s play, full of committed, intriguing moments that can really be delved into.

Higginson, formerly of The Bill,  as an amnesiac vacillating between a series of extreme emotions, largely fear and confusion, must do the difficult job of making his over-hyped, over-dramatised condition look somehow authentic and naturalistic, and he succeeds with a gruff but disarming openness in the face. Cronin’s Alice, the psychologist who must be in control of the room at all times, is a coolly ferocious creation, and Cronin is considerably watchable in the role, calculated in her choices of body language, carefully deploying calm and neutrality without appearing wooden.

The House on the Lake for Griffin Theatre Co. Photo by Brett Boardman.
The House on the Lake for Griffin Theatre Co. Photo by Brett Boardman.

There are plenty of twists, including a big one; it may or not be easily guessable, depending on your familiarity with thrillers, crime stories, and the like — but the man sitting next to me fell asleep more than once during the course of the play, and so it seems to be a play better digested on a day when you aren’t feeling particularly sleepy. Some of the lines are a bit clunky (there’s even one of those reveals about a characters surname being an anagram of a more sinister word) and sometimes, while by  the story is by its nature repetitive it hosts a stale moment or two. However, director Kim Hardwick keeps the energy up on stage, guiding without rushing from one reveal to another.

It’s fine and it’s entertaining, and the performances are good, but on the whole the play is just fine, just entertaining, and just good. It isn’t challenging in any way, or particularly new, which seems to happen all too often in Griffin’s season this year and last; for the most part, the programming is missing its bite. The House on the Lake is not without its charms, but will be swiftly forgotten.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

One thought on “Review: The House on the Lake, Griffin Theatre Co

  • I would not refer to someone following asleep as a benchmark… Sometimes I am getting to theatre so tired that I can follow sleep when Robert Lepage’ production is on stage. And anyone can.

    Reply

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