‘Alys, Always’ review

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(16user reviews)
 (© Helen Maybanks)
1/10
© Helen Maybanks Joanne Froggatt (Frances), Danny Ashok (Sid) and Simon Manyonda (Oliver)
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2/10
© Helen Maybanks Sylvestra Le Touzel (Mary), Danny Ashok (Sid) and Simon Manyonda (Oliver)
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3/10
© Helen Maybanks Joanne Froggatt (Frances)
 (© Helen Maybanks)
4/10
© Helen Maybanks Joanne Froggatt (Frances) and Robert Glenister (Laurence)
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5/10
© Helen Maybanks Joanne Froggatt (Frances) and Robert Glenister (Laurence)
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6/10
© Helen Maybanks Maddie Cutter (Cellist) and Joanne Froggatt (Frances)
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7/10
© Helen Maybanks Robert Glenister (Laurence) and Joanne Froggatt (Frances)
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8/10
© Helen Maybanks Helen Maybanks.jpg, l-r Sue Wallace (Mrs Thorpe), Jeff Rawle (Mr Thorpe) and Joanne Froggatt (Frances)
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9/10
© Helen Maybanks Sylvestra Le Touzel (Mary) and Joanne Froggatt (Frances)
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10/10
© Helen Maybanks Vineeta Rishi (PC Nagra) and Joanne Froggatt (Frances)

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Slick adaptation of Harriet Lane’s thriller about a woman who infiltrates a privileged family

Nicholas Hytner’s Bridge Theatre sometimes feels overwhelmed by a sense of unrealised potential: it can command the best playwrights, actors and directors in the world, but has yet to really knock it out of the park with a piece of new writing.

Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation of Harriet Lane’s acclaimed debut novel ‘Alys, Always’ isn’t a classic, but it goes down pretty smooth, a smart, slick psychodrama with a mischievous satirical undercurrent.

As Hytner’s production begins the unremarkable Frances (Joanne Froggatt) witnesses a car overturn on a country road. Shocked, she tries to comfort the dying passenger: a woman named Alys.

Returning to her job as arts desk dogsbody for an Observer-like Sunday newspaper, Frances tries to move past the accident, and initially rebuffs a request from Alys’s family to meet and talk. But when she realises Alys’s widowed husband is heavyweight author Laurence Kyte (Robert Glenister), an ambition to enter his world is kindled: at first just a spark; later a bonfire.

There’s a fascinating tension here between Frances’s increasingly disturbing behaviour, and a sense that it’s at least somewhat mitigated by the ghastliness of the people she’s forcing herself upon. The Kytes aren’t evil, but they are shallow, rich and silly, allowing themselves to be led by their impulses and emotions. The introspective, analytical Frances finds it shocking easy to manipulate them.

Joanne Froggatt of ‘Downton Abbey’ fame is good as Frances, a put-upon young woman, somewhat bereft of charisma or warmth who gradually reshapes herself to fill the void in the Kyte family’s lives. It’s never particularly obvious what she actually wants; but probably she doesn’t know herself, her entire journey a sort of listless poking at her own spiritual void. Froggatt plays her as an everywoman increasingly chased by flashes of exasperation, anger and froideur as she pushes further on into this privileged world and fails to find very much to satisfy her. By most conventional standards I suppose you’d call her a sociopath, but again, there is a lightness of touch here, and a sense that the Kytes are not intrinsically any more deserving of their privilege than Frances is.

The book is a darker and more unsettling affair, with Frances a genuinely unreliable narrator. That doesn’t happen here, and maybe the sense of her conspiracy with the audience slightly blunts the darker intent of the story. Still, Hytner’s brisk production, with a live cello score and dynamic set and projections from Bob Crowley and Luke Halls, is effortlessly watchable, and often very funny in its digs at class, privilege and arts hacks. Plus it’s a real landmark for Hytner: some 40 years into his career, he’s finally directed a play written by a woman – better late than never.

Details

Users say (16)

4 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

4.1 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:4
  • 4 star:9
  • 3 star:3
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|16
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1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

A simple but intriguing storyline, that is brought to life by the brilliant Joanne Froggatt and the stylistic production. It starts of with the initially shy and timid Frances, who works as an underappreciated journalist. The key plotline sees Frances witnessing a road accident involving Alys. After a lull, Frances comes to learn of Alys's life with her her husband, the famous novelist, Laurence Kyte. From here on, we see the evolution of Frances as she becomes more confident and increasingly manipulative, inserting herself into the lives of the dead woman's family. The only criticism is the lack of any antagonism to Frances's manoeuvres, apart from a small protest from Laurence's son. Overall, this is a great production, with engaging characters.

1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

From having us laughing out loud to gasping in horror – Joanne Froggatt as Frances ‘with an e’ certainly made sure this was one character that was never going to be invisible to the audience.

‘Alys, Always’ had me hooked from the start with its sense of mystery and secrets desperate to get out.

I’ll admit to some parts being a little predictable – I figured out a few of the plot points before they were revealed – but this didn’t take away from the enjoyment of it as there were still plenty of sneaky and unexpected twists.

As shy and timid Frances, Joanne had me rooting for her character’s success – and the way she is often overlooked or badly treated made me want to overlook the unexpected and often dark ways in which she achieved her ambitions.

Polly was a fairly stand out character, seemingly embodying the #richkidsofinstagram stereotypes, but at times this felt a bit hammed up and she came across as whiny and annoying (it didn’t make me want to feel sorry for her).

Sylvestra Le Touzel as Mary was my favourite character (I actually did feel sorry for her end) and brought lots of laughs.

Overall, really funny, shocking and thought-provoking performances all around.

1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

Alys, Always, now showing at the Bridge Theatre, is a  psychological drama and it shows us how personality of an individual transformed influenced by some unexpected events.

A shy young woman, Frances, witnesses a fatal car accident and waits with the injured driver, Alys, until the ambulance arrives. Before this incident Frances lives an invisible life. She dresses very unnoticeable , she is overlooked at work, she is accommodating everyone and everything.

Then she meets Alys’s famous family and this is where the transformation of the person begins. Frances lies about Alys's last words.  The lie never goes away, she becomes more confident and more ambitious. We can barely recognise the previous timid Frances as she enters her new previously unimaginable lifestyle of success, confidence and ambitious greed. She forces herself into a romance with the widowed Alys's husband, she develops friendship with Alys's daughter, she propelled her work recognition. She transforms to a different unrecognisable person.

So which person is the real one? Or perhaps both? Don't we all have several sides of our personality but sometimes we are not letting the other sides to sip through?

1 of 1 found helpful
Tastemaker

An absolutely brilliant show, with great tension throughout - keeping you slightly on edge as you wander where the plot exactly is going. With touches of humour and relatable moments in the scenes of the family, the office and the publishing world, the story is believable and engaging throughout. The performances of the actors on set were fantastic and the staging simple, yet effective. A double plus for the brand new theatre, which makes viewing the stage a comfort. The only downside? The price of the wine at the bar! 

1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

I was really impressed by Alys, Always that I went to see last night. I really love thriller movies and books but I was wondering how that could look like on stage. I was not disappointed, I got this feeling of being drawn in the story, trying to guess all of the main character’s next moves and being surprised by how the plot was unfolding. The rythm could have been a little bit quicker but that was not a major issue. Actors were strong and I really loved that their acting was quite subtle leading us to wonder who is really the “bad guy” in the story. It was my first time at the Bridge Theater as well and I loved the intimate feeling of the venue. I would recommend checking Alys, Always!

1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

Though I initially found this play to be slow and a little boring, by the second half of act one I was completely drawn in, eager to know how this thriller was going to end. I wouldn't say that either the story or the production was spectacular per se, but it was enthralling and very clever which made for an enjoyable evening.

1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

This play is quite dark and there are a few moments that you just cringe - you can hear audible gasps from the audience at these points. The cast is good and you get drawn into the story and want to know how it ends. It does seem a little unbelievable though and maybe that's why this play doesn't really stand out for me. The theatre is lovely and the play is well-staged with crisp scene changes. An interesting one but not one you're likely to remember

1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

Alys, Always is a story about a woman who tragically witnesses the death of another and becomes relentless in invading her life - an entertaining and easy to follow plot line, a great cast (Joanne Froggatt and Robert Glenister were expectedly good) and seamless sneaky costume changes. The whole show was seamless, slick and very professionally done. Thoroughly enjoyed!

1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

I admit I knew nothing about this play but I genuinely enjoyed it. Great performances all round with a terrific lead turn from Ms Froggart. I also really enjoyed the comedy elements from Pollys character.

The show was intriguing story wise and filled with both disturbing elements and laugh out loud moments.

A very simple yet powerful stage set production and a lovely theatre. Rare in that it has plenty of leg room.

Thoroughly enjoyable night out.

1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

I really liked this play. It was twisted in a subtle way and the actors really did it justice. It’s sometimes hard to get the set changes in plays however this and the outfit changes were effortless. I didn’t want it to end.

It’s also my first time at the Bridge theatre and I was massively impressed with the leg room and design - will be back to see something else!

1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

An interesting and thought-provoking piece of theatre, Joanne Froggatt is excellent and the shift from office skivvy to a woman about town is so subtly done you hardly notice it. The simple set and lighting were used to great effect and the scenes blended seamlessly into one another. Highly recommended!

1 of 1 found helpful

An extraordinary performance by Joanne Froggart.   Watching her subtle change from unassuming dogsbody to a high-powered editor is a treat.   Highly effective stage set and of course direction by Nicholas Hytner 

tastemaker

I loved the irresistible rise of Joanne Froggatt's Frances and the way this apparently meek person is able to shape events to match her latent desires. The supporting characters are memorable and make the most of their time on the stage as they are unwittingly preyed upon by Frances. Although it's quite easy to see the motivation for Frances's calculating transformation, it does at time seem too easy for her ascent. It was entertaining to see the play unfold but I felt the ending to be inconclusive.   

tastemaker

Story line was fairly predictable, but the brilliant acting by the main leads do compensate for that. I think the transition of frances’ character seem little abrupt and unclear given it’s a stage production but overall still a fairly interesting show to watch.

Tastemaker

This is a very easy watch. The story tumbles out at a steady pace and ends up, in a fairly unimaginative way, exactly where you expect it to. Based on a hit novel (that I haven't read), it feels that the adaption for stage just doesn't have the time to set the characters up to make the most of the story. 


The majority of the cast get their job done with professionalism but little more. Robert Glenister probably impresses the most as Joanne Froggatt is strong but overly natural as Frances, playing it too safe. Leah Gayer's interpretation of Polly is too over the top and jars. 


I can't quite understand Hytner's choice to abandon the sinister nature of this story, keeping it airy and light throughout and some scenes seem utterly superfluous yet so short as to surely only be there for a costume change. The stage is well designed and The Bridge, as ever, is a great performance space. 


The biggest flaw this play has is its seeming lack of real character development despite being about character development. I didn't see the change in Frances as we had so little time to understand the character before we embark on the key plot arch. Maybe that's the fault of the adaption or perhaps the story itself? Either way, it's entertaining enough, if lacking any real substance. 



Tastemaker

Alys. Always seems to have the storyline of early 2019, namely the inveigling of one person into the life of another. The Favourite and All about Eve each have similarities in subject matter although they are all totally different in the way that they deal with it. This one is a psychological thriller. It is very well done, the acting is fantastic throughout, it has the feel of an audiobook come to life. 

The direction is crisp and lean, there are no frills - it is all about the story, which is good. The set is clever and dynamic and the theatre itself is beautiful both in term of sightlines and setting. When you leave, after the show, you walk out into one of the most dramatic views of London, old and new.

Very enjoyable for many different reasons.