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Review: Drowning (Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh)

A new play about the Lainz nurse serial killers arrives at Edinburgh Fringe

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
The cast of Drowning
© Alex Brenner

It may not be the only show about true crime up at the Fringe this year, but I would wager it's definitely the worst. This piece by Jessica Ross – which is being executive produced by The Matrix actor Carrie-Anne Moss – rolls out every possible cliché it could in its attempt to tell the true story of a bunch of Austrian nurses who killed lots of old and sick people in the '80s. You'd expect that their story may include a little bit of tantalising serial killer shock, yes, but you'd also hope they'd at least manage to make head or tail of the truth behind the women's stories.

And according to a line in the script right at the beginning, this is certainly the intention. But how writer Ross and director Steven Roy thought they might be achieving the intention when all the elements of the story are hyped up to the max, I have no idea. In real life these women were dubbed ‘Angels of Death' and there's no attempt here to dispel anything about this salacious, headline-grabbing label. Even the sexy nurse tropes are painfully and horrendously rolled out, including a clunky lesbian nurse fumble thrown in for no apparent reason.

Everything about this show is horribly heavy-handed and the characters involved are awful caricatures; there's the drunk nurse, there's the nurse who's addicted to diet pills, there's the nurse that's sad about babies (of course, she's a woman). Everything that could possibly be made sordid about this story, is. It's awful.

What makes it so much more difficult to watch is that this is not just filled to the brim with serial killer and nurse stereotypes. It is women stereotypes too and the fact that the majority of the killers are needy in the extreme and that's apparently why they go along with the plan is, frankly, more gruesome than any of the very lame murders which we see happen onstage.

The acting definitely doesn't help, as the four women are wooden – possibly a result of the terrible dialogue – and under-rehearsed. Roy's decision to have the stage filled with a series of white baths means they laboriously drag things about during the scene changes, turning them upside down or the right way up depending on where they are sitting. It's all just so unnecessary.

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