The Things about Psychopaths has little in common with Red Ladder’s recent successes, having nothing of the expansive nature of the community drama, Promised Land, or the rollicking agit-prop of Big Society!. Instead it is brief, taut, economical, directed with equal economy by Rod Dixon.
It is effective as theatre, but it’s difficult to trace the political/social point that Ben Tagoe is making. Noel is a bright junior executive at a finance firm (Tagoe is vague on the details) whose innocence leads him to take part in dubious dealing. As a result he finds himself in prison taking the rap for the more experienced trader who led him into it. In prison he is treated as innocents usually are. Some comparison between the two worlds is clearly intended: the Red Ladder website claims that the play asks “important questions about power and empathy” in Britain today. In fact it seems to me to repeat things we all know: that there is corruption in commerce and prison, that the naive are bullied and deceived and that the bullies/persecutors are as happy to play games with the victim’s mind as they are to make money or enjoy physical violence.
Whatever The Thing about Psychopaths is – and I am not convinced it is as thought-provoking as Red Ladder claims – it’s well done. The earlier scenes capture the cool selfishness of the corporate world, even if Tagoe tells us too little to involve us in the shady dealings. The prison scenes often generate real tension and contain some evocative over-lapping narratives about first steps to crime.
Shaun Cowlishaw is perfect casting as Noel, attempting to hide his innocence at first under an image of cool self-assurance, slow to develop the hardness necessary for self-preservation, the victim of his own niceness in an amusing prison sequence trying not to thank and apologise to his cell-mate and failing lamentably. As Michael, his cell-mate/tormentor, William Fox is equally convincing, fixated on his own version of truth, marvellously menacing even when conversationally chatty. Babajide Fado sketches in the corrupt trader Ray rather than giving a rounded portrayal (I don’t know how far the problems with this character lie in the writing), but finds the poetry in Michael and Noel’s African cell-mate. Kyla Goodey is a sharply dismissive Head of Corporate Governance in the office scenes and generally convinces as the prison officer, despite the rather over-done contrasts between her treatment of Noel and Michael.
The Thing about Psychopaths, produced in association with the Carriageworks and London’s Park Theatre, tours to 22 venues, finishing on 14-19 May at the Park Theatre. Yorkshire dates are: