VAULT – The Tinker ★★★★

The Tinker, based on a true-crime case from 1912, offers an unsettling tale about a stranger at the door.

Newcomer Olivia Foan debuts her new play The Tinker at the Vault Festival. Based on a true crime case from 1912, she presents a classic period-melodrama that is suitably full of tension and unease. 

Late one evening during a blizzard, a seemingly congenial tradesman and tinker William Walter arrives at the grand county house of married couple Evelyn and Frank, seeking shelter for himself and horses from the drifting snow.  

As the story unfolds, we learn that Evelyn and Frank are new to the house and the area, having left their home in the city for a fresh start. Initially it’s not clear what prompted the move, however in playing Evelyn, Lauren O’Leary effectively portrays a women who is on edge and haunted by the past, which perfectly foreshadows what we go on to learn about her and Frank’s story.  

All images by Clare Hannan

Frank (confidently played by Keon Martial-Phillip) in contrast is a self-assured business man, who runs his father’s whisky company and clearly adores his wife, enough to up sticks and move away from the city. 

The catalyst for the unraveling of their tragic backstory is the mysterious Tinker, who is played with charm and potential menace in equal measure by Giles Abbott. After nervously welcoming him into their home and making uneasy small talk, they learn that even though their lives appear poles apart, (he being a travelling  tradesman and them a wealthy couple) what William has brought with him on his cart may be a link to all of their pasts and has the potential to change Frank and Evelyn’s lives for ever.  

One of the success of the drama is that the Tinker remains enigmatic throughout. From the point of his arrival, when he claims to have just been passing and seen the lights of the house as a shining beacon, to the moment he leave and walks off into the snow, is he just a crazy / jolly man and was his arrival just fate? Or is he up to something more sinister and premeditated? Our feelings about him veer about as he views their house and lifestyle with child-like wonder and swings to someone who is seemingly teasing and tormenting.  What we can say without spoilers is that as a self-proclaimed fixer of all things, he leaves behind something with the couple which offers them some potential hope for the future.

Director Olivia Munk successfully creates the feeling of a bigger production from this short one-act play, utilising the space we see on stage and hear off stage, which gives more dramatic depth. The use throughout of the sound of the blizzard lends the drama a striking atmosphere and an uneasy quality. The decision however to cut the sound on a couple of occasions, presumably to highlight dramatic points in the story, only serves to jolt you out of the drama. Likewise some of the choices of lighting states, such as a piano being lit from above when someone plays it, or the room changing colour with no obvious reason, makes the domestic setting seem unrealistic and interrupts the flow.

Foan has produced a fascinating script which explores the question of belief: confronting what you have chosen to believe in the past to make the present work and what you go on to believe in order to get the result that you desire, no matter what the cost. The story ends with hope, however the end alludes to the darker side of these decisions. 

An intriguing new voice emerges from playwriting newcomer Olivia Foan ★★★★

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