London, 1910 – George Joseph Love (Fred Perry) is a serial fraudster, wooing and tricking the desperate women of London. Adelaide Pinchin (Natasha J Barnes) is a seamstress, making and sewing beautiful hats in the back of an Edgware Road milliners. She’s lonely, insecure, and has a nest egg – a perfect mark for George, or so he thought. Tryst begins as a romantic drama set in Edwardian London, until things take a sinister turn, and George and Adelaide’s story becomes much more than an occasionally comical story about a cruel conman and an innocent, unsuspecting woman.

Written in 1997 by Karoline Leach, Tryst had its premiere off-Broadway in 2006, and has now been brought to the Tabard Theatre in Chiswick. Based on a true story, Tryst dramatises the life and crimes of notorious hustler and misogynist, George Joseph Smith. Smith travelled the length and breadth of England, marrying and scamming women, wooing them and later making off with their money. Leach’s characters are developed and complex, helping to create authentic personalities in a time frame of just 90 minutes.

Barnes received rave reviews after stepping into Sheridan Smith’s role as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, and she is endearing and loveable as the simple and sweet Adelaide. She is plagued by taunts from her father, and her low self-esteem, ardent desire to please and the hefty sum of money she has stashed away, combine to create the perfect woman for George to scam. Perry is perfectly tricky and slippery as the charismatic Smith, and his vulgar language towards women evoke groans and sighs from the audience. However, his charm somehow extends to us, and the edge is mostly taken off his heinous comments through his comic timing and dry wit. The pair goes together like chalk and cheese, but it works well and both actors are brilliant in their roles.

Directed by Phoebe Barran, this production is thrilling in all the right places. It is tender, funny, and although he inflames the feminist in me, Smith is an intriguing character. Tryst taps into the morbid fascination we have with dangerous figures from days gone by. It takes a somewhat unknown historical villain that is George Joseph Smith, and gives him a backstory – a source, perhaps, of his horrendous attitudes to women, love and life. It pokes and probes at both the characters’ psyches, and explores the mind of a woman desperate for love, and a complex man whose truth is indiscernible from his lies. A slow burn that gently turns sour, Tryst is perfect spooky viewing for the season.

Tryst played at the Tabard Theatre until November 5 2017.

Photo: Andrew Hilton