'Brighton looks like a town helping the police with their enquiries' quotes our white-coated guide at the top of the stairs in Brighton Town hall and raises a laugh as she introduces us to our venue. Clearly in character, although it is not immediately clear what character, she leads us down into the bowels of the building and the original police cells that have not been functional for the best part of a century.
Lit by candles with the audience huddled in dark corners, we are part of the performance space and the arresting attention of our killers is really quite disconcerting
This site specific, story-telling event is extremely well delivered. We are introduced, in turn, to five notorious real life murderers with Brighton connections and hear their grisly sides of the story. Lit by candles with the audience huddled in dark corners, we are part of the performance space and the arresting attention of our killers is really quite disconcerting, even before we find out their deeds. An early appearance by an ethereal, white faced, white gowned women, who had murdered her son, briefly concerned me that the performance would rely on the iconography of the ghost story rather than the delivery. Happily this was not the case; we were instead treated to strong wordsmithery, acted out effectively.
Having been split up to move through the cells we hear from the playwright Percy Lefroy as he tells how desperation led him to murder a man on a train in the Balcombe rail tunnel. He is portrayed by Edwin Flay in a deeply unflattering light: initially revelling in the attention as he recounts his tale, he descends into a somber reflection as his execution approaches. Flay manages to convey the full horror of facing his final moments in a surprisingly affecting role for such a short piece. Moving onwards to a gorgeously gothic, vaulted space that looks as though it could be the oldest or least altered cell in the building, we hear the next tale in its chill and dank rows of seats. This is another brilliant account from inside a murderer's mind. This time the chocolate murderess Cristiana Edmunds, who gleefully jumps between childlike infatuation with her supposed lover and imperious calculation as she undertakes to poison his wife with strychnine laced chocolate creams. An offer of chocolates to the audience was met with a significant number of polite but suspicious declines.
Our last two accounts are both trunk murders, of the ilk that fixated the nation and are perhaps the most interesting as they seek to keep the audience on their toes with a few more twists and a little complexity. The infamous Tony Mancini stumbles over his own memory as he strips layers of lies away. Also to keep them on their toes, roughly half the show is spent standing up for many, although chairs are available for some. It's not onerous, just be prepared for it. The level of detail in the scripts will please fans of true crime and the props littering the cells draw the eye. A little time to poke around the cells after the show might have been a nice addition. The Brighton Killers could be summed up as a fun afternoon of tour style enactment but that would imply a rather more lightweight offering and would be doing the acting a disservice. Take the kids only if you want to toughen them up.
This is a darkly enthralling immersive, immensely enjoyable theatre event.