The Brighton Killers – Broadway Baby Review
by Julia French on 16th May 2016
‘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.
|“Interactive Theatre at it’s scariest”
by David Rumelle for remotegoat on 23/05/160
Nigel Fairs has hit on a winning formula here and his talented company have succeeded in producing one of the most haunting and atmospheric productions in this year’s Brighton Fringe . It is also an amazing interactive experience that leaves it’s audience visibly affected by the end of the evening.
By the very nature of setting both pieces in the atmospheric claustrophobia of Brighton’s old police cells beneath the Town Hall- we are taken away from the comfort of a proscenium arch theatre-and into literally ” brief encounters” with real characters, real passions and each with a grisly cold blooded tale to tell. But-what makes this presentation succeed on all levels is the in-depth character studies that bring the Brighton Killers to life- barely a few feet away from it’s audience.
As John Haigh -the Acid bath murderer- Nigel Fairs is quite simply superb- expertly combining historical fact with a chillingly real and naturalistic performance that leaves us hanging on every word. He brings a fully rounded and complex characterisation to the fore and even succeeds in making us understand the motives and thinking behind a hitherto miss-interpreted killer. One feels as if one has literally spent an hour in his presence.
Likewise the rest of the company succeed in taking us into a dark and interactive world-and enable us to view Brighton’s killers as something more than criminals. Edwin Flay as trunk murderer Percy Lefroy is mesmerising in his portrayal and Suzanne Procter as Louisa Massett is chillingly perfect. Michelle McKay(Ann) and Kat-Anne Rogers(Christiana Edmunds ) each have their moment to shine.
In would be insidious to single out individual performances -as this is a brilliant ensemble piece – written, honed directed and performed to perfection -with wonderfully macabre lighting and sound.
I have no doubt-these two presentations will be in much demand for a long time to come. Catch them whenever you can-although they are definitely not for the faint hearted.
|Event venues and times|
|finished||Old Police Cells Museum | Town Hall, Brighton, BN1 1JA|
BRIGHTON FRINGE: The Brighton Killers – The Old Police Cells Museum
Writer: Nigel Fairs
Reviewer: Fergus Morgan
Everyone shares a morbid fascination with murderers. It’s just a fact. And it’s a fact that Nigel Fairs exploits in The Brighton Killers, his 80-minute play about killers from the south coast, staged atmospherically in The Old Police Cells Museum. It’s part promenade production, part museum tour, and all sinister, spooky, bloodstained fun.
We are greeted by a brisk, white-coated Scottish woman (Michelle McKay), who leads the audience down into the dark, dank basement of Brighton Town Hall, where tealights and torches light up three somewhat dilapidated rooms, which used to be used by Sussex Police. Over the course of 70 minutes or so, with plenty of shuffling from room to room, we encounter five different murderers, who tell us their history in grisly, gruesome detail.
There is the anxious Percy Lefroy Mapleton (Edwin Flay), who, desperate for money to pay his debts, threw Isaac Frederick Gold off the London-Brighton train in 1881, only to find just eleven shillings in his purse. There is the eerie Louise Masset (Suzanne Procter), who suffocated her irksome young son in London in 1899, then fled to Brighton to enjoy a weekend with her lover. There is the sinister Christiana Edmunds (Kat-Anne Roger), aka The Chocolate Cream Killer, who became obsessed with a local married doctor and stopped at nothing to win him all for herself. And there is the downright maniacal Tony Mancini (writer Nigel Fairs), who stuffed his murdered wife into a trunk and kept her there for weeks.
Fairs has created a set of believably nasty characters from the scant details of real-life events, and penned a series of genuinely riveting monologues in which they describe their horrible deeds. He offers a modest comment on what drives people to commit murder and sneakily hints at the darkness within all of us in a witty and immersive conclusion, but in truth, this is little more than an indulgence of our morbid fascinations. It’s well-written, atmospheric and blackly comic, though, so what’s not to like?
Runs until: Saturday 21 May 2016 | Image: Contributed