Spanner in the Works’ production Notorious, written by Patricia Downey, is a piece that feels unfinished and cobbled together. The set-up of this two-hander explores the notoriety of six famous figures from history, considering how ‘Some people have changed the world for the better, some have left their evil mark on it.’ Led by two performers, Neil Keery and Caroline Curran, the play is split between six monologues each performed by one actor as Ted Bundy, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Manson, Emmeline Pankhurst, Bettie Page and Myra Hindley respectively.
However, there were some glaring problems that held the show back.
The play starts with the monologue of Ted Bundy, delivered by Keery. Keery’s American accent is fairly strong and his performance confident. However, the other two monologues were very poor: Abraham Lincoln was boring while Charles Manson was incredibly over done. Curran had slightly more success with her performances. The Emmeline Pankhurst monologue was slightly patchy whilst Myra Hindley’s turn captured some of the sinister nature of original. The best part by far was Curran’s channeling of Bettie Page, which captured Page’s famous sparkly personality and bright demeanour and allowed for some laughs.
However, there were some glaring problems that held the show back. Poor costumes and wigs are clearly a forgivable error in productions that lack funds, but when the production includes celebrities as well-known as those chosen here, it tampers with the audience’s suspension of disbelief. Some of the wigs looked skewhiff and cheap, and there was unfortunately a lot of unintended comedy during the Lincoln scene as Keery’s stuck-on beard repeatedly fell off. I did feel very sorry for him at this point because it was very funny, but it was also demonstrative that not enough care or consideration had gone into the details of this piece.
The main problem was the play’s construction. The selection of historical figures was bizarre: though the idea seemed to be to explore notoriety, the play felt very split and strange and the inclusion of Abraham Lincoln and Emmeline Pankhurst seemed completely out of place. Perhaps including only criminal figures, or only revolutionary figures may have helped to allow a more cohesive tone to build, and therefore a clearer theme to explore. Instead, the play was all over the place. Downey has been incredibly ambitious trying to include a huge amount of detail into a piece that spans vastly different time periods and contexts.
The fault did not seem to lie with the performers, but the material itself. Keery and Curran did their best with what is actually very difficult material to work with; the poor writing along with the enormous task of impersonating six different historical figures struggled to lead to a successful play. I left feeling very perplexed.