Alice is standing, alone and unprotected, on an almost-empty stage. She's happy to tell us her story; insists on telling us her story, reclaiming it, owning it, moulding the pain of her past into an edifice of strength. Alice was kidnapped as a teenager, and spent her adolescent years imprisoned in a suburban home – but the experience hasn't broken her, as actor Eleanor Croswell makes abundantly clear. Crosswell's performance is commanding, every word punchy and purposeful, every move evocative and full of intent. The problem is… I can't say the same about the script.
I'm honestly not sure what playwright Naomi Westerman is aiming to achieve. Alice's monologue is filled with meandering diversions, drifting here into a travelogue, swerving there onto a reminiscence of childhood fiction. Time and again, Westerman takes a few steps down a promising alleyway, only to promptly turn back again. We learn to our surprise that Alice grew up in the Middle East, despite (as she aggressively points out) being white; so are we about to hear the story of an overlooked minority? No, it's just that her parents were ex-pats – and when war broke out, they simply packed their bags and caught the plane back to London.
What's the point of this? There are occasional suggestions of a challenging theme, about how glibly we pigeonhole people and whether a single terrible fact should define an entire life. But Alice is a character in a play, and we expect her to be defined by something. The glimpses we get into her past don't coalesce into an understanding of her present – and we only see past her emotional defences in the final moments of the play, when it's far too late to empathise with anything other than the obvious horror of her imprisonment.
Another lengthy detour highlights society's fixation with mystery stories, yet there are a few too many unresolved mysteries in this plot. Chief among them is: what happened to Alice's family? It's clear she had a privileged and protected upbringing, yet when she finally escaped from her kidnapper, she had no home to go back to. That incongruity is never explained, but nor is it flagged up as a secret too painful to talk about. It feels like it's simply forgotten.
And one more big mystery hangs over the play: just who we, the audience, are supposed to be. Alice speaks to us directly, sometimes descending from the stage, initially addressing the room as though she's hosting a seminar. Later though, it seems she's talking to a specific character, reacting to responses we can't see. So are we her friends? Her kidnapper? A product of her imagination? The stage is set for a perception-altering revelation, but that moment never quite comes.
Overall, there's too much here that feels badly thought-out – or at least, poorly communicated. And too much of the script resembles an opinion column spoken aloud, rather than a credible personal conversation. It's a tremendous shame, particularly for actor Croswell, who does construct a believable and characterful persona from these fragments of the past. But the whole thing doesn't quite come together.