In the era of Serial, Making a Murderer and Casting JonBenet, it can be easy to forget that the public’s taste for true crime is not a particularly modern phenomenon. Our desire to seek out every lurid detail within cases and fascination with the darker impulses of humanity did not arise out of the various Netflix miniseries and podcasts currently available, focusing on killers and their victims, but is a much older and deeper trait. Brighton Killers, unfurling within the candle-lit recesses of the Old Police Cells museum hidden within the depths of City Hall, treads a careful line between indulging in these gruesome tales and shining an inquisitive light on the audience’s own prurient interest.
what lingered afterwards was the pleasurably evocative sense of being enclosed, even just temporarily, in Brighton’s dark and storied past.
Throughout the evening, five historical murderers step forward to tell their tales, alternately comic, grotesque, or sombre with each story having some connection to Brighton. Whilst some of these links were tenuous, the more successful tales were those which played out amongst familiar locations. I doubt I was the only audience member who experienced a shiver of recognition when hearing Christiana Edmunds recount the story of buying chocolate creams – which she would later lace with strychnine – from a sweet shop on West St, a street I had walked down earlier that day.
Playwright, Nigel Fairs, has paid careful attention to staging. As audience members, we are shuffled between subterranean rooms, down narrow staircases, and along dim pathways, accompanied by an ever-present and surprisingly-effective soundtrack of suitably creepy sound effects. At various points you are left standing up for an extended period of time; it’s certainly not punishing, but the slight physical discomfort works as a reminder of the brutal physicality of the stories we are hearing. As any play focused on murders must, Brighton Killers deals in bodies, and our experiences as audience members within the space only enhances this.
Those hoping for either a truly blood-curdling experience, or an incisive dive into why certain people commit murder may leave disappointed, with the overall effect being more playful than macabre. Yet what lingered afterwards was the pleasurably evocative sense of being enclosed, even just temporarily, in Brighton’s dark and storied past.