Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Serial Theatre

Christie in Love (Rattling Tounges Theatre)
Southern Cross Restaurant & Bar
22 - 31 July

There is a great new theatre space in town – Rattling Tongues are presenting lunch-time theatre in the Southern Cross bar. If you arrive at One Sharp you have time to get a cup of tea or coffee and a bowl of soup and watch a play – food for the soul and for the mind. The plays are about 45 minutes long which means there is no excuse not to head down there in your lunch hour – I can’t imagine a better break from work.

It begins with Howard Breton’s Christie in Love directed by Adam Macaulay and based on the 1950’s murderer who was hanged for his crimes against women. The use of the set is constantly surprising and effective. A wire pen filled with scrunched up newspaper is like a central boxing ring in which the action takes place.

Paul Harrop is the policeman digging for bodies known to be buried in Christie’s garden. To alleviate the tedium and the tension he makes piercing eye contact with the audience and tells lewd limericks whose misogynistic content hints at the attitude prevalent throughout. When his supervisor, Jed Brophy, barks, “keep your mind on the bones”, the double entendre heightens the objectivism of the women.

One of them comes to ‘life’ as a rag doll dummy, skilfully manipulated by Harrop. His gestures, mannerisms and inflections as he personifies ‘Ruth’ lure the audience into watching the dummy’s featureless cloth head for the slightest nuance of expression, as we superimpose our own thoughts and motives onto others.

Christie himself (Nick Blake) makes his first appearance behind a skull-like mask as he wrestles with a length of hose pipe down his trousers. His grunting, jerking movements foreshadow the orgiastic hanging scene. Christie had respiratory problems and used an inhaler to help him breathe. He also killed his victims by getting them to inhale carbon monoxide through an apparatus of his own devising. There are myriad layers within this play, which the digging through old newspapers helps exhume.

As Christie removes the mask and straightens his tie and cuffs, he reveals a normal looking man beneath. In fact I googled Christie and the resemblance is actually quite striking. In a chilling Yorkshire accent barely above a whisper he confesses to the policemen that it would be easier if murderers had horns so we could better recognise them.

He explodes, “no one plays the fool with me” and we are grateful he is trapped in his enclosure. When he explains that he wears plimsolls so that “I creep up” and threatens to climb over the fence, there is a palpable sense of fear and menace. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one sitting uncomfortably in the black-out (and this was in the middle of the day!)

He blames the women for emasculating and provoking him with “their skirts rustling, heels tapping and between their legs a bacon slicer.” There is a knowing intake of breath from the audience as they can’t help but imagine the fate of Sophie Elliott. Sounds of children’s mocking laughter float through the theatre and his imagination as he recalls how his mother cut his hair, “removed my length” and made him impotent. His need to dominate his victims resulted in necrophilia.

Harrop splutters, “That’s not love” but his own notions of moonlight and the sea are not exactly realistic either. He can no longer go home to his wife because, although he has had three baths, she can smell the dead women on him. Everyone in this story is culpable to some extent. The women were failed, in 1953 as much as now. Their horrific murders made for tabloid titivation – the rustling discarded papers confirm they are yesterday’s news.

The adroit direction, tight scriptwriting and powerful performances make this a fantastic production. The audience is taken through a range of emotions from laughter through shock and embarrassment to fear, which is hard to engineer in a pub at lunch-time. Rattling Tongues claim they want to “introduce new audiences to live theatre, in new places – in a sense, taking it to where those audiences live.” This is a fantastic objective, and one I look forward to seeing develop.

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