Normal – Smock Alley – Review by Frank L
Written by Anthony Neilson
Presented by Restless Ecstasy
25 Oct – 5 Nov | 8pm | Boys School
“Normal” was written in 1990, the year following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Neilson is a Scot, born in Edinburgh. Its inspiration is Peter Kurten, the Dusseldorf ripper, who carried out a series of gruesome attacks and killings, during 1929/30 as the Weimar era staggered towards its collapse. The play has a wet-behind-the-ears lawyer Justus Wehner (Shane English) representing Peter Kurten (Michael O’Flaherty) at his trial for a string of murders amongst a variety of criminal acts.
Peter’s life had begun in a single roomed tenement with his parents and thirteen siblings, where his drunken father beat his mother. He describes to Justus the realities of such living conditions. He also describes to Justus his fascination with blood in relation to his sexual needs. The defence at the trial is that he was insane. Justus is an innocent who may know the law but whose understanding of lust and love is non-existent. Peter quickly recognises these shortcomings in Justus and without pity exposes them to Justus. Peter is clever and manipulative and in control. The play concentrates on the relationship between Peter and Justus with Peter’s wife Frau Kurten (Kamila Dydyna) playing a role of wife and also that of a doll with whom Justus discovers a thing or two.
The play probes into the public’s fascination and appetite for media coverage of sexual deviancy and killing. Notwithstanding that Peter Kurten was a monster in his debauchery and depravity there are parts of him which are recognisable in ourselves, namely as the programme notes disturbingly point out – selfishness, pride, egotism and vanity. Justus certainly displays these traits in his innocence.
The ramp which leads into the theatre and around its walls has at irregular intervals mannequin’s arms and legs lying akimbo. There is a structure of scaffolding on the right hand side of the stage with two sets of steps leading to its floor. There is a bath on the left hand side of the stage. Various hammers, scissors and knives are laid out on a bench. It is an unsettling stage set. The entire ramp is used twice in the performance once for an innocent and once for a violent purpose. In short, the entire space of the Boy’s School is used to great effect.
This is not a play for the faint hearted. It is another contribution to the lexicon of what constitutes evil. Evil does not often advertise itself in neon lights, as for example Peter Kurten was 48 years old before he was finally brought to justice. As the play alludes, a far greater evil was about to encircle Germany shortly after these events. Sadly most did not recognise it until it was far too late.
A play well worth a visit but it does not make for easy viewing.
WRITTEN BY: Anthony Neilson
DIRECTED BY: Owen Lindsay
LIGHTING and SOUND DESIGN BY: Bill Woodland
COSTUME DESIGN BY: Anne Marie Sheridan
CAST: Kamila Dydnya, Shane English, Michael O’Flaherty
Running time: approx 80mins