There's certainly no shortage of ambition in this small-scale, big-hitting professional production tucked away in the backwaters of Milton Keynes.
On the face of it, Bryony Lavery’s 1998 play dissecting the motives and make-up of a serial child killer has the makings of a heavy evening. And whatever you feel about the playwright’s arguments – personally I find them simplistic and highly questionable – there’s no denying the dramatic possibilities of such a dark, complex subject.
Director Rosemary Hill, whose company The Play’s The Thing is staging this production in the Madcap Theatre community venue in Wolverton, plunders these possibilities for all they’re worth. Played out on a stark, simple set (Kevin Jenkins), the piece – which is mostly a series of self-justifying monologues – builds to an affecting conclusion.
Much of the credit for the depth and power of the evening must go to the three impressive performers, who take the raw material and wrangle from it some emotional meaning to leaven the psychological analysis. Drew McKenzie makes the killer Ralph a vulnerable loner, sympathetic if never quite understandable.
Helen Dickens, as the mother of one of his victims, has the toughest journey, from the agony of her 10-year-old daughter’s disappearance to the unemotional forgiveness of the perpetrator 20 years later. It’s a journey she accomplishes with a combination of inner steel and a delicate touch of humour and pathos.
Erika Sanderson, as the American forensic psychologist whose study of Ralph provides the framework for the action, offers a carefully judged blend of professional rectitude and personal collapse. Indeed, of all the characters, hers is the one who most neatly fits the title of the play, frozen as she is in a single moment of her life from which she is seeking escape, just as much as the killer or victim.
It’s no easy ride, but the company deserves acclaim for the attempt, and the bravery of staging such difficult and unapproachable work with such a strong result is a major achievement in itself.