Ian Brady. Peter Sutcliffe. Dennis Nilsen. All notorious names from the 1990’s for their heinous crimes, and yet does anyone remember the name of any of the 30 victims they were responsible for between them? This one act play consisting of three serial killers’ stories in their cells for life is a chilling insight into the minds of true criminals. Adapted from the actual prison correspondence of Brady, Sutcliffe and Nilsen, Glenn Chandler’s gripping play invites you to question where the line is drawn when it comes to evil.
The casual way in which all three killers respond to the letters from members of the public with advice and even enlightened comments on society blurs the boundaries between psychopathic killers and reasonable, almost sensible men. Not only that but, as this highly intimate scene is played out in front of you, you begin to turn your judgement onto the morbid nature of the members of the public who actively seek out long-term relationships through written correspondence with these convicts.
Before the performance even begins you are plunged into the contained and stagnant life of these inmates as you descend the cold and narrow stairs that lead down to the old prison cells in the basement of Brighton Town Hall. The sterile backdrop of white-tiled wall echoes an old psychiatric ward which visually compliments the mental instability that each prisoner unwittingly shows. The audience is invited into all three cells as you sit on wooden benches literally inches from the performance space. This intimacy is only increased by the unflinching, direct eye-contact that all three performers subject on members of the audience as their sinister epistolary-styled monologues follow one after the other.
My personal torturer for this afternoon’s performance is Gareth Morrison, who plays the infamous Yorkshire Ripper convicted for the murders of 13 women in 1981. Morrison is unforgiving with his direct address to me as a woman on the outside who he has an emotional relationship with although having never met each other. Morrison’s performance is truly unsettling as his character switches from overly affectionate and disturbingly jovial (considering the circumstances) to crassly perverse and threatening. His performance is overwhelming; with his relentless stare and deep Yorkshire growl, the audience is intimidated by the unpredictability of his character and the sporadic changes in his personality. Edward Cory adopts the role of pathological killer Ian Brady, one of the Moors Murderers alongside Myra Hindley who is addressed as ‘the girl’ throughout his monologues. Cory’s steady and controlled performance forces the audience to engage with the disturbing paradox of a mind declared criminally insane paralleled with a seemingly reasonable, outright denial of ever being a psychopath. Cory’s performance is faultlessly executed and unnervingly persuasive. Perhaps the most disconcerting of the three killers, personality wise, is Aaron Usher’s refined, literary portrayal of Muswell Hill Murderer Dennis Nilsen. Usher’s precise and sophisticated delivery of such chilling lines as ‘not creative romantics like moi!’ projects a brilliantly manipulative and truly evil characterisation.
This show is an authentic and intelligent insight into the mentality of perpetrators of monstrous crimes whilst simultaneously scrutinising the morbid and sometimes disturbing interest that we, as the audience and as a member of the public, take in learning about these atrocities. An exciting and unsettling mix of quality theatre, just pray they don’t pick you!