Mindgame/Malvern Theatres

HEAR no evil, speak no evil… if only pulp fiction writer Mark Styler had paid heed to this simple bit of folk philosophy before he embarked on his research trip to the asylum for the insane.

Styler exhibits all the cockiness of his calling and not for one single moment contemplates that he may have bitten off more than he can chew. But before long, that swagger has been reduced to a cringing crawl as the nightmare begins in this chamber of horrors.

He has an appointment with a Doctor Alex Farquhar, but his real mission is to secure an interview with a caged serial killer, due to be the subject of his next book.

But nothing is as it seems and before long, the hapless hack is pinioned – both literally and metaphorically – on a helter-skelter ride into a hellish world of torment and confusion.

Andrew Ryan’s portrayal of Styler draws from the bottomless pit of the Gothic horror tradition as he mutates from arrogant wordsmith into a gibbering wreck facing a brutal reality that could have been lifted straight from the pages of one of his creations.

But if this is not edge-of-seat enough for you, then just watch Farquhar (Michael Sherwin) who really gives us the full sweaty hands experience in a performance that would surely shock the late grand master of horror Edgar Alan Poe into sitting bolt upright in his sarcophagus.

Meanwhile, Sarah Wynne Kordas as psychiatric nurse Paisley completes this disturbing tale of the unexpected in a truly shocking sequence that bloodily reprises the infamous Norman Bates shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Anthony Horowitz’s dark masterpiece, deftly directed by Karen Henson, not only questions the nature of insanity but also challenges the notion of reality itself… which may ultimately be an illusion.

Mindgame runs until Saturday (April 15) and is most surely not for the fainthearted.

John Phillpott