The Three Faces of Doctor Crippen

The pseudo-auditorium boxes in the theatre immediately made sure that there was a distinct ‘stage show’ feel to the performance, meaning that the audience knew from the start that this was perhaps going to be a less naturalistic production. There was an element of the actors almost warming up during the time that we filed into the space and found our seats. The characters that were being portrayed on stage during the opening were very convincing; they seemed to have an awful lot to say amongst themselves – the three Doctor Crippen characters were effervescent with their hushed comments to each other.

It is unfortunate that, during this time, since I was not really focussing on the quiet babble of the onstage characters due to not being able to adequately hear them, I found myself honing in on the hodgepodge of onstage props. There were, scattered on assortments of furniture, ornate vases, mantelpiece clocks and apothecary vials, which all seemed to fit in well with the late Edwardian setting. However, these pieces were let down by a chest of drawers clearly made from MDF as well as a set of chairs that would definitely not have been found in a doctor’s house in the early 20th century. This was the main problem with the show: its inconsistency. Some sections and actors shone out as very good, whereas others fell by the wayside. On the whole, the acting was sufficient to carry the story.

The play began with a melodramatic section where the three personalities of Crippen did not really feel comfortable throwing themselves into the obvious melodrama. Here, the three members of the Lady’s Guild stood out as being sufficiently caricatured and I found myself wondering why they did not replace Crippen and become the stars of the show. Next came a section where the ensemble fell down, with a uninspiring American lover, a detective not completely comfortable with his role or job, and a secretary who suddenly and inexplicably morphed into a callous and corrupting terror. The ensemble were finally redeemed by Mitch Whitehead’s subtly hilarious ocean liner captain, and his subsequently superb judge. The final stage of this play, at last, saw the Crippens break into their stride. Fantasy Crippen (Philip Dunster) really shone, but all three picked up the pace as soon as they had their fake moustaches whipped off – the considerably inconsistent and incongruous dynamic of their sometime being seen and overheard by those they were talking to, and other times one of them taking the forefront, or the times when they all sat on three chairs in a theatre, or when Fantasy danced and therefore wooed the secretary and then pronounced that it was Private Crippen who was her true love, disappeared in the final stages of the show. There was finally some of the dark Victorian comedy and vagaries of vaudeville that is promised by the show. However, there were little to no signs of the music hall, burlesque, or absurdism that were promised.

This is a fairly competent, and interesting, production that sadly falls short of being quite good but I have no doubt it will come on considerably during its run.

The Blurb

A marvellously twisted tale of love, death, and a bathtub full of body parts. Based on the true story of the notorious murderer Doctor Crippen. Terrible vaudeville, daring escapes, and rather lovely hats. www.freerangeproductions.co.uk.