A little boy lurks in a shadowy doorway. A row of knives glints amidst a spotless kitchen. Spooky music tingles in the background and a giant tarantula crawls about upstairs. All the signs suggest that Nancy Harris’, Our New Girl, is going to be a strange and unsettling show.
Indeed, when nanny Annie turns up unannounced in heavily-pregnant Hazel’s kitchen, there is a dangerous gleam to Harris’ pared down dialogue. Harris throws in just enough sinister hints about this new nanny, and her oddly intimate knowledge of Hazel’s family, to keep these early encounters fizzing nicely. But despite these Ortonesque overtones, the atmosphere gradually flattens and the over-defined characters, with little room to develop, hit a dead end.
Harris seems unsure where to focus the nervous energy of her play. At first, the emphasis is on Annie (Denise Gough), as she subtly unbalances this family’s already dysfunctional routine. Yet the focus soon shifts to Hazel’s troubled relationship with her son, Daniel, who she neither likes nor understands. It all get a bit, We Need to Talk About Kevin, only without the mystery of the original novel. The plot works on overtime, as a somewhat predictable affair is thrown into the mix, Hazel’s home-business begins to implode and divorce hovers on the horizon.
All the subtle intrigue of the opening scenes is lost in a deluge of action. It’s simply not possible to maintain the slow-burning tension in the midst of some increasingly over-blown drama. Director Charlotte Gwinner could have have corralled this show a little more tightly, picking one plot thread to pull out above all others. It is hard for things to unravel convincingly, when there are so many threads knotted, awkwardly, together.
Kate Fleetwood, as under-stimulated but overstressed mum Hazel, is the only one to find real texture in her role. She is brittle but not thin, vicious but still sympathetic. The same cannot be said of husband, Richard (Mark Bazeley) whose blatant flirting and barking insults are so overdone that the audience can only laugh.