REVIEW: CHUMMY (White Bear Theatre) ★★★★

BAFTA-winning writer John Foster debuts his neo-noir thriller Chummy at the newly refurbished White Bear Theatre, staged by Encompass productions.

Burn-out Jackie Straker resigns herself to the “more settled” life of a small scale private investigator, after eight years of police work and a personal tragedy. Little does she know that she is about to sign over her life to 24/7 threats, pleads and violence when she picks up a phone call from mysterious ‘Chummy’. The psychopathic stranger has an unstoppable urge to kill, but is afraid to give in to his need. He implores her to stop him, even hires her for money. Exposed to the constant calls and manipulative mind games, Jackie spirals deeper into alcoholism and a nervous breakdown. At the same time, Chummy is well on his career path as a serial killer.

A great actor draws an audience in to a degree where what they are actually saying becomes secondary, as their performance is so fascinating. Megan Pemberton is such an actor. She holds the stage perfectly, and with subtlety shows all of Jackie’s facets and psychological nuances. Pemberton portrays despair, anger, drive, while at the same time delivering the cool, detached noir lines of writer John Foster. Calum Speed is an adequately creepy shadowy counterpart, letting the audience glimpse into Chummy’s disturbed mind with his impressive voice play….his laugh is terrifying. Jessica Tomlinson is a solid supporting actress throughout, playing as the victims.

Foster’s writing is wonderful. It is poetic and stylishly genre. It keeps the tension high, even in quieter moments. Albeit the play needs concentration – the performance style is half actual dialogue, half narration, with the actors switching the narrating role constantly – it stays intriguing. The plot is, at times, a little repetitive, but it moves along significantly enough so it does not feel too stuck in one place. (Of course this also paints the picture of Jackie’s nonstop torment). It is a twisted, creepy play, and a proper thriller. Characters are empathy evoking and nuanced. At the start, Jackie confesses that the name Chummy fills her with dread…bit silly really, isn’t it? Well, by the end of the show, you will feel the same way.

Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent

Chummy plays at White Bear Theatre until 10 June 2017