Thursday, November 12, 2009

A shadow from Remembrance Day inevitably lay across this month's Poetry and a Pint session in Bath (but not in my resolutely flippant guest spot, though I did wear a peace poppy.) Most impressive, for me, was Sue Boyle's beautiful cameo of a virgin great aunt bereaved by the Great War, and Jeremy Gibson's acid satire on George Bush: his manic aspirationalism and word botching too.

I wouldn’t generally enthuse about an hour spent in the company of a man whose idea of a good time was to wrench the head off a swan and drink its blood, but I’m making an exception for the current production of Normal at the Brewery. It’s sensational – in a good as well as a lurid way. Anthony Neilson based his play on the real-life story of Peter Kurten, a German serial killer executed just before WW2, and there’s a dreadful foretaste of Nazi atrocities in this electrifying production. As well as the grim realities of history and psychological harm, this is a gripping horror story where crazed toys come to life, props become murder tools, and no-one seems sane or ‘normal’ despite the courtroom verdict. The uneasy feeling of entrapment in a gothic fairground is enhanced by fantastic set & lighting (Frazer Riches), by virtuoso acting (Oliver Millingham, Michael Mitcham, and Kate Kordel), and by the truly inspired direction of Chris Loveless. Top of my theatrical unforgettable moments of 2009: the manic dance sequence between Peter and the young lawyer he relentlessly entraps in his gruesome world. There's an unsettling crosscurrent of normalcy too in the love lives of these damaged people, and perhaps what is most chilling about Millingham's psychopath is his hypnotic charm. A play that questions innocence and guilt, and resonates long after plangent music has ebbed from the stage.

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