Staged in the intimate confines of the Hope Theatre, Gregg Masuak’s dark tumble through shifting identities is unsettling before it even begins. To reach their seats, the audience must navigate a real-life Cluedo board, dodging a dead body and shuffling past frozen onlookers poised in the aisle. Once seated, spectators can expect a similar level of uneasiness throughout, as Flycatcher plunges them into a deep world in which lives are twisted, scarred and left to burn.

Much of this is done at the mercy of Madelaine (Emily Arden). Within a few minutes of the show’s opening she is already playing cruel tricks on the other characters, such as trading a “bag of secrets” for a young girl’s bag of crisps; of course, the “secrets” turn out to be maggots. This unforgiving manner and warped view of the world quickly have us spellbound.

On the other hand, it turns out even hearts as cold as Madelaine’s are not immune to the lure of a love interest. We meet Bing (Alex Shenton), a bouncing door-to-door salesman trying to change the world one life insurance policy at a time. Madelaine falls for him, but he’s entranced with Olive (Amy Newton), an elegantly dressed, lipstick-wearing polar opposite who reminds him of Grace Kelly. A love triangle ensues, yet the more Madelaine vies to win Bing’s affection, the more he pursues Olive. When makeovers and flirtations fail, seedy tricks begin to emerge as Madelaine turns on her competition, and darkness quickly descends.  

There is so much to like about this play. The tempo is light and quick, with lightening scene changes that often involve no change at all, allowing only the script to portray the notion of a transforming environment. It is an impressive feat to maintain this tempo throughout the two-hour running time, which is deftly used to ensure the characters develop at a natural speed. Masuak’s astute direction is consistently sharp, and cleverly captures the inner feelings of the character of Olive. We notice that, following the most disconcerting of scenes in which Olive falls victim to Madelaine’s wicked ruses, the play suddenly diverts back to normality. We, like the character, emerge from desolation into a seemingly normal scenario, where characters go about their day and look at us like we’ve just seen a ghost. Did that even just happen? Are we going mad? We are put right in the shoes of Madelaine’s favourite prey, and the result is delightfully disturbing.

Fiz Marcus also provides a superlative performance as neglected grandmother Mae. It is difficult not to fall in love with this character, whose deep-rooted kindness seeps out with an endearing Yorkshire accent. She is capable of breaking your heart, at one point trying to give out free flowers to passing strangers, only to be rudely ignored, but is also able to make you throw your head back with laughter, touting the crudest lines in the entire play. In fact, none of the actors can be faulted in their performance. Nathan Plant, Susanna Wolff, Bruce Kitchener and Melissa Dalton display extreme suppleness when switching between a huge number of characters, making it difficult to discern how many cast members there actually are.

If anything, this show has sold itself short by playing such a small venue. While the intimacy is effective in building tension, bringing the characters closer to us and forcing them to use the aisles as stage wings, so much work, complexity and intelligence has been poured into the play that it almost feels like a waste. On the other hand, it far upsells the thrilling aspect, and could have run much further with the darkly comic theme. Still, it remains a well-acted, vastly intricate display of a dark and twisted world.

Flycatcher is playing The Hope Theatre until 2nd December. For more information and tickets, see www.thehopetheatre.com/.