The Murder Club

August 10, 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆     Psychologically troubling

theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39): Sat 6 – Fri 26 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Murder Club, from Pear Productions and New Celts at theSpace on the Mile, heads into very deep waters. If the production is not always up to the demands of the material, it makes a creditable fist of it.

The play, written by Steve Hennessy originally for mental health theatre group Stepping Out, is set in Broadmoor high-security hospital in 1922. Convicted murderers Richard Prince and Ronald True, both spared execution by reason of insanity, are involved in a psychological struggle.

A scene from The Murder Club. Pic: Pear Productions

References are also made to the then-current bombing campaign in Iraq, prosecuted by Winston Churchill in what is one of several contenders for his least fine hour. The parallels that are drawn between different types of ‘murderer’ are all the more intriguing for not being remotely heavy-handed.

The story itself is dealt with similarly sensitively. Qualms about the murders of real women being sensationalised are dealt with head-on, not to say graphically.The ghostly figure of Olive (the sex worker killed by True) is in many ways the play’s central character, and uncomfortable issues are confronted.

However, this is where the production is not always successful. Despite the writer’s best efforts, an element of melodrama is always present. Furthermore, the young cast are playing characters who – in background, origin and temperament – are something of a stretch for them.

There is the odd wobbly accent, leading to some peculiar emphasis on words, and the situation fails to convince at times.

chilly hauteur

Which is not to say that the cast are poor, just that they are reaching for something that is not always in their grasp. Phoebe Duncan’s ghostly Olive is magnetic, full of bewilderment and fury, and the scenes detailing her abusive childhood are particularly well handled.

Ewan McIntosh gives Prince, a struggling actor who killed matinee idol William Terriss, a chilly hauteur which works well. If Ryan Forrester does not always manage to give True the necessary charismatic, manipulative frostiness, he is very successful in conveying his instability.

The switch of the staff member John Coleman to Jane may be a strange one historically, but works brilliantly in dramatic terms, with Annalise McNicol’s murder-obsessed time-server of a guard in many ways the most convincing performance.

David Wotton’s direction is economical, with McIntosh’s design making good use of the acting space.

The blood-soaked props are a neat touch, but having a mocked-up newspaper that misspells both of the words in its title strikes an odd note, whether this is deliberate or not.

Overall, however, this is a production of praiseworthy seriousness and sympathy, performed with considerable grace.

Running time 1 hour 5 minutes (no interval)
theSpace on the Mile (Space 3), 80 High St, EH1 1TH (Venue 39)
Saturday 6 – Friday 26 August 2022 (even dates only)
Even dates only at 12.25 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

Company website: https://pearproduction2022.wixsite.com/website
Instagram: @pearproductions22
Facebook: @PearProductionsTheatre
Twitter: @Pear_Production

ENDS

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