Review – Killers

August 9, 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩ Chilling and unsettling

Killers

Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
Thurs 1 – Sun 25 August 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

Killers, presented at The Assembly Rooms by Boys of The Empire Productions, is a disturbing and challenging piece of work, which attempts to give an insight into the mind of a murderer.

Glenn Chandler (probably best known as the creator of Taggart) has used the actual prison correspondence of three notorious serial killers – Dennis Nilsen, ‘Moors Murderer’ Ian Brady and ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ Peter Sutcliffe – in writing the piece.

It is very difficult not to go into a play dealing with such issues without prejudices, however hard one might try. Too much ‘true crime’ writing seems unnecessary, prurient and exploitative, leaving a bad taste in the mouth. While this play does not entirely dismiss such objections, it certainly goes a long way towards answering them.

Essentially, we are given three monologues, as the three killers perform excerpts of replies to letters from their ‘fans’. Chandler handles the material expertly, switching between the narrators in order give the piece a meaningful structure. Liam Rudden’s skilful direction also introduces enough variety of pace and action into what could otherwise simply be three men sitting behind desks talking for 55 minutes.

There is a very difficult balancing act here for the three actors and the director. It would be easy to overact and present the men as cartoonish, which would remove all impact. Underplaying the roles too much, however, would be even more dangerous, risking disrespect to all of those affected by their crimes.

Gareth Morrison (Sutcliffe) is probably the weakest of the three performers. He is able to suggest the darkness behind some of the apparently innocent comments in his replies to his female correspondents, but his accent wanders too far from Yorkshire on occasion and he does not quite manage to portray sustained menace.

The stuff of nightmares

Edward Cory, however, is electric as Brady. He brings an intensity to the role which fascinates and disturbs, without resorting to any kind of eye-rolling excess. His performance leaves you in no doubt that there is something very wrong here, without allowing you to put your finger on exactly what. He is particularly effective when, for example, he talks about those who are responsible for the deaths of countless innocents in war being the real psychopaths. For a moment you almost find yourself agreeing, before you remember exactly who is speaking here.

Arron Usher’s performance as Nilsen is the stuff of nightmares. He transforms himself from an unsettling, creepily camp figure into a horrifying, snarling one in the blink of an eye. It is particularly frightening if you are the member of the audience to whom he chooses to direct his most extreme moments; judging from the number of people who asked me if I was all right at the end of the show, however, it must have affected others too.

The fact that the audience felt compelled to speak to perfect strangers about the play at the end is surely a sign of its power. It raises all kinds of questions – by withholding any information about who the three killers’ correspondents are, and why they choose to write to them, we are forced to confront our own and society’s contradictory attitudes to such figures, condemning yet still apparently fascinated.

There are definitely faults here. The lack of any interaction between the three figures on stage means that, for all the director’s efforts, the nagging suspicion remains that this is essentially a radio play performed on stage. However, there is no denying the powerful impact of the performance.

Running time 55 min
Run ends Saturday 15 August
Daily (not Mon 12) 6.10pm.
Venue 20, The Assembly Rooms, 54 George Street, EH2 2LR
Tickets from www.edfringe.com

ENDS

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  1. Yet again another insightful review that leaves me longing to have seen the production and cursing the fact I can’t do so.