STAGE REVIEW: Mindgame - at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, on Tuesday, June 4 to Saturday, June 9, 2019.

HATS off to Horowitz for this splendid psychological thriller.

Anthony Horowitz, who has provided us with great entertainment in the past as the creator of Foyle’s War, the BBC’s New Blood, Alex Rider, the Sherlock Holmes novels House of Silk and Moriarty and also the James Bond novel Trigger Mortis, has done it again with this mind-twisting offering which even now has you wondering if you came to the right conclusions.

Set, we are led to believe, in a countryside hospital for the criminally insane - housing ‘patients’ such as serial killers, we have our minds stretched in every direction. But which way is the right route to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

The drama unfolds, and also misleads, in the office of Alex Farquhar at Fairfields and features just three characters - Styler, played by Andrew Ryan, Angie Smith as Nurse Paisley and Michael Sherwin is Dr Farquhar, the mysterious and seemingly manipulative master of the hospital.

Styler, a writer of glossy ‘true crime’ paperbacks is there to seek an audience with a notoriously grisly serial killer called Easterman, the subject for his next book.

He claims to have been waiting in the office for two hours after a three-and-a-half hour drive.

The doctor, when he eventually appears through one of his office’s two doors prevaricates and offers all manner of stumbling blocks to avoid assisting him.

Andrew Ryan and Michael Sherwin as Styler and Farquhar certainly have some heavy dialogue in this play, yet have no problem in keeping the audience fully engrossed.

There is, from the off, the wonder of whether people are really who they say they are.  There's certainly a lot to be explored here: is it real, is it fantasy, how does the mind of a serial killer work and can we be manipulated to do things we don't really want to?

There is plenty for those who are observant and with a keen-eye to notice subtle changes to framed photos, views from windows, while doors - such as the one used by Farquhar, and cupboards, are not all that they would seem.

You can’t help but admire some first rate acting, particularly from Sherwin and Ryan, who have the main bulk of the dialogue, and as the twists and turns unfold you are wondering just who is who, and what is what!

The main point - are the people who they say they are?

And as the tension is ratcheted up there is also a delicious undercurrent of subtle humour.

Altogether it’s hugely absorbing and totally engrossing. And when Farquhar persuades Styler to put on a straightjacket you know it's not going to end well but you have to smile when he remarks: "A man wearing a straightjacket can only be one of two things - a failed escapologist, or a madman.”

Perhaps we were all in ‘straightjackets’ but didn’t realise it being totally captivated by a hugely entertaining play, excellently performed, and well directed by Karen Henson. Yet there were so many questions for the mind to ponder at the end.

It just felt Mindgame had done what it had set out to achieve - to confuse the mind. One answer, maybe two or possibly three!