nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 27, 2006
I'm sorry to have to report that Freak Winds, a thriller from Australia written by Marshall Napier, contains almost no thrills at all. There are a few moments offering something mildly unexpected, but nothing made this theatre-goer gasp or shrink back into his seat—not even the promised "sudden loud noise" (per a sign on the door to the theatre) proved particularly unsettling.
The premise certainly seems promising. An arrogant insurance salesman comes knocking on the door in the middle of a raging storm. No sooner has the apparently mild-mannered and possibly dotty old man Ernest opened the door and let in the salesman (whose name is Henry Crumb) then the freak winds of the play's title blow a massive old oak right onto Henry's new car. (Okay, that does seem a bit improbable, but let it go.) Henry tries to call for help but, naturally, the phone lines are down. And although at first it is Henry who is insufferably rude and annoying, it becomes clear that Ernest is more than his match and, well, strange.
For one thing, he's got scrapbooks full of clippings of lurid crimes involving teenage girls and the like. For another, when he goes off into the kitchen (to get Henry some coffee and cookies), we hear an ominous sound of knife-sharpening and, on at least one occasion, horrid noises of Ernest presumably retching somewhere else in the house.
Reasonable explanations are offered for the above, but Henry has seen enough horror movies not to rely on them, and so have we. Eventually, a pretty young woman named Myra turns up; wheelchair-bound, she at first seems to be both kinder and saner than Ernest, but it's not long before she's moving in on Henry, ordering him to allow her to give him a massage and, a little later, upping the ante with kisses, demands for sex, and a marriage proposal.
The thing is, though most of what happens in Freak Winds feels designed to manipulate the audience quite shamelessly, we play along, assuming that the payoff will be worth it. Henry will turn out to be the long lost something or other, seeking revenge; or Ernest and Myra will be revealed to be the famous mad so-and-so serial killers, relentlessly planning something-or-other: we'll accept anything, pretty much, provided it makes for a psychologically satisfying reason for the bizarre events that we've witnessed.
Unfortunately, the payoff doesn't come. I'll ruin what little suspense Freak Winds has to offer if I tell you any more; suffice to say that the play works hard to scare the pants off the audience but fails to because its events finally only feel random and haphazard. No greater force (e.g., Evil) is at work here.
Napier directs and stars as Ernest and so presumably the show we're seeing is the one he intends us to see. His work as an actor is more assured than as a writer, and indeed his two co-stars—Tamara Lovatt-Smith as Myra and Damian de Montemas as Henry—do everything they can with the spotty script. But in the end, with nothing motivating the weird mindgames and manipulations that Ernest and Myra go to such great pains to undertake, Freak Winds falls sadly flat.