LULLABIES OF BROADMOOR
by Steve Hennessy.
The Murder Club and Wilderness.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED In rep to 1 October 2011.
7.30pm 13, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21, 23, 24, 28, 30 Sept, 1 Oct.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 September.
Madness and murder skilfully dissected.
Now coupled in repertory with two further plays about the asylum for the criminally insane, this is a new production of two plays originally shown at the Finborough in 2004, with one actor and the lighting designer the same. And, of course, the playwright – Chris Loveless’s 2011 revival reinforces its predecessor in showing Steve Hennessy has a true dramatic instinct for constructing a story and stage images that infuse an atmosphere, and dramatic speculation, in audience imaginations.
Ann Stiddard’s cramped designs help the atmosphere, creating a sense of both the physical confinement and mental obsession of inmates of a hospital cell.
Murder’s at the heart of Hennessy’s four stories. In the case of The Murder Club, two, the results of obsessions. Struggling actor Richard Prince became convinced that leading light of the London stage William Terriss was obstructing his career, stabbing him in 1897. Hennessy shows him joined in 1922 by society conman and killer Ronald True.
At the start both killers, and the spirit of murdered prostitute Olive Young, repeat movement patterns around warder John Coleman. Gradually the past and the killers’ psychic states are revealed, explaining these patterns, until a final vivid moment recalls Olive’s first words.
Though the insanity pattern in Wilderness is more familiar, the circumstances are not. American doctor William Chester Minor killed a furnace-stoker for no reason; the two had no connection. Unlike Murder Club’s female spirit, Eliza Merrett is properly alive. The dead man’s widow, she reluctantly takes money from the wealthy killer, then repeatedly visits him, bringing books to help with his years of work helping compile the Oxford English Dictionary.
But Minor is paranoid, sure he’s being invaded in his cell. There’s a part explanation, but his paranoia proves paramount. Ironically, after a sudden shock appearance it’s eventually by language that Minor’s delusions are nailed, and any compromise between him and Eliza destroyed.
Loveless maintains tension throughout the plays’, and characters’, revelations and deception. There’s decent playing, with Violet Ryder giving Olive a particular pathos, while Chris Bianchi is forceful as the illusory Merrett and suavely manipulative as the falsehood-filled True.
The Murder Club:
John Coleman: Chris Donnelly.
Richard Prince: Chris Courtenay.
Ronald True. Chris Bianchi.
Olive Young: Violet Ryder.
Dr William Chester Minor: Chris Courtenay.
John Coleman: Chris Donnelly.
George Merrett: Chris Bianchi.
Eliza Merrett: Violet Ryder.
Director: Chris Loveless.
Designer: Ann Stiddard.
Lighting: Tim Bartlett.
Costume: Rebecca Sellors.