Criminology 303

One of the wonderful things about the Fringe Festival is that it’s the only time of year that theatre in Scotland truly panders to our increasingly short attention spans. Even the keenest of theatre aficionados struggles with an indulgent, bladder-bursting three hour classic. Sometimes the pomp of lengthy, large scale theatre can alienate potential viewers. No such troubles at the Fringe: the plethora of half-hour to hour-long shows means that you can see four in a day and still have plenty of time to ruin your liver or spend a half-hour waiting on steakbake in an overcrowded Greggs. Tangent Theatre Company’s Criminology 303, beginning at 21.30, lasts a mere 35 minutes, but still retains many of the qualities that make theatre such an exciting spectacle.

An entertaining diversion, but Criminology 303 could benefit from a little Playwriting 101.

The action is split between a present day lecture, in which the audience play the students, and a murder investigation in the mid 70s. We flash back and forth between both time periods, which centre on policewoman Norma Bates (no relation, one suspects, to the corpse in Psycho), played by Jilly Bond. She shares the stage with Julian Gartside, who plays the prime suspect in Bates’ investigation. As present day Bates unravels, haunted by memories of her only unsolved case, we see repeated flashbacks playing out before us. Is Gartside’s peculiar, standoffish Laird responsible for a young man's murder? Or is it something altogether more mysterious?

Criminology 303, the first play ever written by Rose Miller, makes use of some remarkably entertaining methods in an attempt to capture our attention and suspend our disbelief quickly. The casting of the audience in the role of Criminology students is a clever move, and draws some chuckles from a packed auditorium. The use of filmed material and multimedia to help aid flashbacks and introduce an uneasy feeling that is important in the overall effect of the play.

However, this piece is so short that it damages itself. A number of positive elements are negated by the fact that the play could easily have afforded to be twice as long. For instance, while both actors do solid work, neither truly gets a chance to fly. Gartside comes closest with a disturbing monologue, but the play simply hasn't earned the atmosphere for us to respond in the desired way. The overall tale is so short that play’s end is abrupt and peculiar. There is promise here, certainly, and it’s a pleasure to want more of a play rather than less. The basic craft of creating the atmosphere required for a thrilling play though, has been neglected. An entertaining diversion, but Criminology 303 could benefit from a little Playwriting 101.

Reviews by Andrew Forbes

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The Blurb

Professor Norma Bates, retired detective, lectures on past cases, but hostile technology is out to get her, forcing her to confront the one that remains unsolved. A story of betrayal and lost love – and a murder which refuses to give up its secret. Until tonight. Join her as she relives her encounter with the pivotal witness and the truth erupts. Not your average ghost story by promising new writer, Rose Miller. Starring Jilly Bond (Island, National Theatre) and Julian Gartside (Casualty). Presented by Tangent Theatre Company. ‘Fluid, charismatic performers’ (The Guardian). ‘A first class cast’ (