Let’s not mince words – this is a hard watch. A very hard watch. Anyone who grew up with the unforgiving mugshots of the Moors Murderers staring at them from every newsstand will appreciate the chill that thrills through one's veins in just picking up a leaflet with the infamous Hindley stare leering out of it. The prurience of paper-shifting journalists across the years has ensured that Hindley, her lover Ian Brady, and their gruesome murders experience a still-potent notoriety. As the lives of their victims were so casually snuffed out, this adds to the righteous indignation one feels when faced with any information about the pair who stunned a nation with their crimes.
A mesmerising performance of a monster
For those unfamiliar with the source material, Hindley and Brady sexually tortured and killed five children in the 1960s, before burying them on Saddleworth Moor. Convicted just months after the death penalty had been abolished in the UK, the rest of their lives behind bars seemed – to the outside world – to be spent either on hunger strike (Brady) or begging for release (Hindley).
And so, a one-woman show detailing Hindley’s part in the murders is going to be strong stuff. Writer-performer Lauren Varnfield is careful never to seek to apologise for Hindley’s actions, whilst at the same time presenting a three-dimensional woman caught up in a web of domestic violence and murder. The sensitivity and balance in the script must be applauded for not seeking to sensationalise what were sensational stories – it is said that hardened policemen wept in court – nor to underplay the horrors which have now passed into national folklore.
As Hindley, Varnfield is absolutely mesmerising and it is rightly discomfiting to find her performance an engaging and powerful one. She carries the stage with a mixture of swagger and vulnerability, and is clearly a significant talent in a commanding piece which will crawl beneath your skin and give you the shivers.