views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Christie in Love
The King's Head Theatre
3rd June 2016


Jake Curran and Murray Taylor as the Inspector and Christie

Photography © Chris Tribble

It doesn't matter how good you are at something, no one likes to be typecast. Just ask a certain "Mr Galbraith". That perhaps explains the rationale behind Rough Haired Pointer taking on Howard Brenton's tragicomic Christie in Love, a 70-minute insight into a real life serial killer. Not only is this play not a farce, it's not exactly fast-paced either, with many of the company's usual hallmarks missing. This is indeed the gloriously talented Rough Haired Pointer, just not quite as we know them.

The play opens with a fairly green Constable (Daniel Buckley) reluctantly digging for bodies, reciting rude limericks in an attempt to take his mind off his work. Little sympathy is forthcoming from the Inspector (Jake Curran), who has the impatience of someone who has seen it all before and isn't easily shocked. Following an inevitable gruesome discovery, Christie (Murray Taylor) is summoned for interrogation. What drives a man to commit such evil deeds?

Christie in Love is by far the darkest piece of theatre we've seen this company stage and it's full of deliberately uncomfortable silences, frequently making it difficult to sit through. This is especially true of the first half which adheres faithfully to Brenton's note for it to be "played very slowly". It's always clear that any long spells of inactivity are intentional and that director Mary Franklin is establishing a certain effect, but this doesn't make it any less frustrating. We sense time running out and indeed the pacing in the first half forces the second to proceed a lot quicker.

When Taylor finally gets to command the spotlight, Franklin's usual style is more evident. In all of her previous comedies, she has never solely relied on the dialogue to get the big laughs, she has always instead given a great deal of consideration to the smallest of details, setting up each gag with plenty of layers. Here, there's something intrinsically off-putting about Christie. It's the way that Taylor shuffles around in his plimsols, the way his gaze drills into people as he looks into the audience. You do feel an overwhelming desire to move as far away from him as possible. It's the subtleties of Taylor's performance that are so unnerving and prove that this production is very much Franklin's work after all.

Although the intentionally slow pacing at the start will divide opinion as to whether it's drawn out for the right length of time, Taylor's acting is undeniably top notch. He is a welcome new face and invigorates the piece. Curran, a regular in any good Rough Haired Pointer production, is reliably excellent. As the senior police officer, he exudes seniority and manages to get the audience giggling even in that contentious first half. Newcomer Buckley is outshone slightly by his fellow actors, however is nonetheless very watchable and demonstrates some good puppeteering. It's always hard being the new boy. Whilst his performance doesn't have the same depth, his panicked deer-in-the-headlights expressions and palpable fear elicit sympathy for the Constable.

The advantage of the lulls in this production is that they afford us the opportunity to take in Christopher Hone's set. He has constructed a raised platform in the centre of the stage, almost like a ball pit, but more sinister and filled with torn up newspaper pages. Using actual dirt rather than tabloid dirt just wouldn't be convenient or safe, so replacing the ground with a more lightweight material is only practical. The decision for that material to be newspaper is an especially smart one, because it makes us think of all the headlines from when Christie went on the run through to the end of his life. It's a wonderfully effective and stylised piece of design which is what we've come to expect from Hone. Jordan Mallory-Skinner's understated soundscape is equally simple yet purposeful, with the subtle shifts in outdoor noises helping to create a feeling of claustrophobia at the most grizzly of moments.

Christie in Love initially plods along, then becomes something much more interesting. Christie's bitter rants against women are stomach-churning and upsetting, with the explosive payoff almost justifying the delays in getting there. Dark, disturbing and compulsive viewing.

Christie in Love opened on 25th May and runs until 18th June 2016 at the King's Head Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)

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