Alys, Always at the Bridge Theatre

A review of 'Alys, Always' - running until 28 March

In what is surprisingly Nichols Hytner’s first direction of a play written by a woman, Alys, Always is based on the bestselling novel by Harriet Lane, adapted by Lucinda Coxon. The plot follows aspiring journalist Frances (Joanne Froggatt), spelt, as she says at the beginning of the play, “with an e”. Stuck on the back pages of a Sunday paper and used by all around her as the dogsbody left with the meagre tasks, she can only dream of rising higher up – when a roadside accident brings her into contact with the Kyte family. As the last person to talk to the injured driver, Alys Kyte, before she died, the Kytes request a meeting with Frances - their famous author patriarch, Laurence (Robert Glenister) has written a book dedicated to his late wife. After one, small white lie, actions quickly spiral beyond anyone’s expectations and you never fully know how much of the action is down to Frances’ cool calculations and manipulations as it all begins to go her way.

Joanne Froggatt is fantastic as Frances, with the arc of her character clearly mapping the evolution of the girl on the fringes to the woman of the moment. She is able to bring out the best and worst of her character, and the audience is conflicted as to whether they want to support or condemn her, something that is almost never done within the play. Apart from one nervy confrontation with the Kyte’s son Teddy (perfectly acted by Sam Woolf), Frances glides unobstructed from one circumstance to another and Froggatt perfectly conveys Frances’ opportunistic nature. It’s well acted all around, with great support from Joanna David as Charlotte, the Kyte’s family friend with more than one dark secret, and Robert Glenister as the grieving Laurence whose relationship with Frances warps gradually into an unforeseen dependency.

It is fantastic direction on the part of Hytner - the production has a cinematic nature that puts you at the forefront of the action and on the edge of your seat. It’s also a very good piece of writing from Coxon, whose construction of the plot builds so gradually it leaves you unsure of anything until it is exposed in its full force. I highly recommend.