Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

mind trio

Stuart Wishart as Farquhar, Bhupinder Brown  as Paisley and Styler played by Joseph Harper


The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


We have a morbid fascination with what we classify as the criminally insane, it’s what sells the likes of Psycho, Silence of the Lambs and The Night of the Hunter.

It’s a fascination for Mark Styler, a writer of sensational true crime books about serial killers, and it is what has brought him to Fairfields, a secure hospital for those the courts deem as being in need of treatment, perhaps even for life, rather than simply a spell in prison.

Styler wants to interview a patient there, Easterman, a notorious killer who had a penchant for eating bits of his many victims, particularly the liver, as well a burying other bits in his garden.

As we open Styler, who has been sitting on stage as the audience enter, is mad, that’s angry mad, not mad mad, incidentally, having been kept waiting two hours for the hospital director, Dr Farquher (with a silent q and h if you are interested) who finally arrives apologising that he has had to deal with an emergency in B wing – a hint there that the secure hospital has a prison regime.

The initial meeting does not go well. Farquer’s secretary is away and he has no idea who Styler is or what he wants and, with no interest in seeing him, tries to get him to leave, calling in Nurse Paisley to take him to the kitchen for a cup of tea then see him out.

Styler persists though and sets in train a game of mental ping pong between doctor and writer with the nurse becoming an unwitting victim in a psychological thriller with twists at every turn.

Joseph Harper goes through the whole gamut of emotions as Styler from his early frustration and mild anger, his annoyance at not only being told he couldn’t see Easterman but that Farquher claimed to know nothing about signing the letter inviting him down to Fairfields.

mind duo

Hospital director Farquhar with writer Styler

Styler is going to experience exasperation fear and despair - as well as a straight jacket - as the meeting goes on. It is a tremendous performance.

That is matched by Stuart Wishart’s assured Farquhar, who puts Styler, and indeed the packed audience off balance by seemingly not knowing where anything is in his own desk, having to rely on Nurse Paisley to find anything. The doctor poses questions which throw Styler off balance and at times shows a manner we would perhaps struggle to describe as bedside. He sees himself as possessing an intellectual superiority adding psychological bullying to his armoury in a remarkable performance.

Bhupinder Brown shows a strange mix of fear and control as Nurse Paisley. There is an obvious fear of Farquhar, who shows flashes of barely controlled temper, yet at times she seems in charge, with Farquhar meekly following her instruction to find the most mundane of objects in his desk, - a lighter, an ash tray . . .. It’s a lovely performance to contrast to the rutting stag game being played by Styler and Farquhar.

Director Tori Wishart and her excellent cast build the tension slowly, layer by layer. As times goes on we start to realise all is not as is should be but putting a finger on it is not easy and just when you have it all figured out, the rules of the game change and you on the back foot again.

Not that it is all tension, there are plenty of, at times uneasy, laughs with Wishart a master of black humour, throwing in beautifully timed asides and one liners.

Then there is the sound from David Wakeman – who also designed the lighting which come into its own at the dramatic end.

The hospital has a Swedish sound system which apparently cannot be turned off which seems to play Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the Shore constantly . . . in snatches. A few bars, silence for a while, then a few more bars. Again, a device which helps to make an audience uneasy as music keeps appearing and vanishing in the background.

The set from the construction team under Keith Higgins gives us an authentic office but with a couple of telling variations which are cleverly done to put us off balance even more.

There are times when the only difference between amateur and professional theatre is whether the actors get paid and as productions go this would not look out of place on any professional stage.

Anthony Horowitz’s script is clever, witty and has a strange logic by the end, but it is difficult to review as detail is a spoiler in itself. Suffice to say it is well paced, wonderfully acted and a play that question sanity and leaves you intrigued, if a little uneasy, from its quiet beginning to dramatic end. Simply superb theatre.. To 03-02-24.

Roger Clarke


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