Since the very first tales were told around a fire, it has been human nature to enjoy a good story - especially when the story is full of murder, gore and tabloid-friendly salacious details. The continued popularity of Making of a Murderer, The Killing, Midsomer Murders and many more proves that the fascination with the very darkest of human nature endures.
You are immediately gripped; one woman sitting next to me visibly recoiled in shock at the very first scene
Brighton Queen of Slaughtering Places indulges this morbid curiosity with a sensational telling of the Brighton Trunk Murderers. Yes, Brighton does have more than one man keen to claim that title. From the moment you are led down into the dark depths of the Old Police Cells, lit by candlelight, the scene is set. The cold air in the close quarters of the cell sends a chill down your spine before the action even starts. When it does begin, you are immediately gripped; one woman sitting next to me visibly recoiled in shock at the very first scene.
The play focuses on the two murderers and each has the chance to tell his story. Toni Mancini (Michael Chance) reveals how he kept his wife’s decomposing body in a trunk he then used as a makeshift coffee table in 1934. The smell was indescribable. He was a man who adopted many names throughout his life, including Cecil Lois England and Jack Notyre, and it’s hard to know whether this unreliable narrator is telling the truth. He is soon joined by the ‘original’ Brighton trunk murderer, John Holloway (Gianbruno Spena) who murdered his unfortunate wife, Celia, a hundred years earlier in 1831, before using a trunk to carry her corpse. The two are joined by an inquisitive know-it all (Matthew Waterhouse) who seems to be perhaps a bit too familiar with one of the murder cases, and there’s even an appearance from one of the victims (Sally Paffett), the lone woman in this dark narrative where all women wind up dead.
368 are a Brighton based theatre company who have mastered the art of theatrical murder and mystery, and their wealth of experience is evident in this polished production. The ensemble cast are highly mannered, using inflections and quirks to make their revelations and characters all the more distinctive. They are skillfully directed by Kat Rogers, who ensures that they use the intimate space to great effect. The excellent script, written by Nigel Fairs, alternates between playful and chilling, delighting in the most disgusting details and gleefully taking unexpected twists and turns.
However, some of the critical commentary is occasionally a bit on the nose and the framing device is clunky at times. Overall, this doesn’t detract much from what is a satisfyingly thrilling affair. As I emerged into an eerie, foggy evening, I was reminded that around 23,000 people were compelled by their fascination with murder to come to this very place almost 200 years ago to see the dead body of John Holloway after he was hanged. Some things never change.