Arts / The Best way of playing cat-and-mouse

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Karen Vickery as “queen of the thriller” Patricia Highsmith and Lachlan Ruffy as Edward Ridgeway… “These trained actors understand how to move, how to analyse text, how to approach characters,” says “Switzerland” director Jordan Best. Photo by Novel Photographic

SINCE the July season of Joanna Murray Smith’s psychological thriller “Switzerland” completely sold out, the theatre has put on an additional performance.

It’s an important story in Canberra’s present-day theatre scene. Local company Pigeonhole Theatre scored a spot in the Canberra Theatre Centre’s 2018 subscription season, while at the same time being picked up by HIT Productions for a touring season of the play “Playhouse Creatures”, which played at the Princess Grace Theatre in Monaco last year.

When “CityNews” catches up with director Jordan Best, she’s deep in rehearsals at Ginninderra Labor Club, the Ainslie Arts Centre and, for the final two weeks, in the Canberra Theatre Centre’s Courtyard Studio, giving set-designer Michael Sparks, lighting-designer Cynthia Jolley Rogers and sound designer Matt Webster ample lead time.

There’s no way Best is going to tell us what happens in this cat-and-mouse play. Very fitting, since the central character is that “queen of the thriller” and mistress of the unexpected twist, Patricia Highsmith.

“It’s super hard to talk about it because it’s a thriller,” Best says. “It’s towards the end of Patricia Highsmith’s life, but I don’t want to give anything away.”

She portrays Highsmith as “an incredibly intriguing woman… opinions of her vary wildly, some people say she was loyal and kind but others describe her as hideous, vicious and bigoted – she is very hard to pin down.”

Highsmith’s books, Best says, “are more than just murder mysteries, they are beautifully written, but the play is about her at a time when she has to come to terms with letting go of her creative side.”

Murray Smith’s character is acerbic, brilliantly funny and venomous, “she’s certainly not vulnerable or a victim and she’s played by Karen Vickery who is an incredible woman with an incredible story herself – I cast her well,” Best says disarmingly.

Here’s what we do know. Vickery plays Highsmith, who is visited in her Swiss home by an apparently naive junior staffer, sent to try and convince her to write another Ripley novel.

The young man, Edward Ridgeway, is played by recent WAAPA graduate and former Canberran Lachlan Ruffy. As Ridgeway slowly insinuates himself into Highsmith’s eccentric world, the pair start talking about the best way to commit a murder.

But as for who is the cat, and who is the mouse, Best’s lips are sealed.

“Lachlan is very young but very quick,” Best says.

“As a director, it’s a bit of a dream… but working with two trained actors  is pretty nice… these trained actors know all those basic stagecraft things, they understand how to move, how to analyse text, how to approach characters, so if I make a choice we can have a conversation about it – that’s a special thing.

“The characters are so intriguing that it makes for a very interesting process. There are a lot of twists and turns and struggling for who is on top… well, it’s Patricia Highsmith so it’s based on psychology – you won’t see what’s coming.

“We are having a very good time in rehearsal – a thriller is fun.”

“Switzerland”, The Courtyard Studio, July 3-14, extra performance, Monday, July 9. Bookings to or 6275 2700.


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