Review: Svengali

Game, set and match

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Photo by Andy Catlin
Published 05 Aug 2022

“Nature is mental,” so comes a line toward the end of this captivating reimaging of George Du Maurier’s Svengali. It’s a neat, declarative summation of the previous 40 minutes, where we are led by the collar through the story of a tennis prodigy who is chewed up and spat out by her monstrous coach, left to process the blur of events that’s happened to her. 

The one-woman performance by Chloe-Ann Tylor is terrific, creating a perfect balance in the titular Svengali. He sees in Trilby not a person, but an animal to be trained. Neat mannerisms highlight these predatory aspects – the stretching, as if preparing for a fight; the occasional drop to the haunches, evoking a tennis player about to receive a serve; and the strangely chilling hands slicking back his black hair when he needs to compose himself. 

At the same time, he is phenomenally charismatic, and you do feel yourself being sucked in, charmed in the same way Trilby is. When the show flips to Trilby’s perspective for the last ten minutes or so, it does take a minute or so to come to terms with this change. 

The script is vital, funny and full of deft, poetic lines. The pacing is a little quick in the middle, as Trilby ascends up the ranks from upstart to potential Wimbledon champion, and maybe an extra ten minutes would help this. But on the whole, this is an excellent piece that showcases a performer and writer both on the top of their games.