Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Substance and Shadow Theatre Company present "Christie in Love" in the City Gate Hotel Basement Tuesday 21st October -Thursday 23rd October 2014 Halloween double bill with Dream Catcher Theatre "Ma Cherie a Mort" at the Exeter Barnfield Theatre Friday 31 October 2014

Christie in Love
Inspector: Nathan Simpson
Reggie Christie: Midge Mullin
Constable: Sam Pike
(Photography: Matt Austin)

Substance and Shadow Theatre Company are now firmly established as purveyors of gripping social commentary and dark satire. Their debut with Harold Pinter's "Dumb Waiter", starring Midge Mullin and Mike Gilpin, stunned audiences on the Devon tour in 2012. The following year, founders Rose and Midge Mullin presented their own creation "Skin Deep", satirising the right wing extremism of the punk era, with new acting sensation Nathan Simpson in a starring rôle.

In February this year, Midge and Nathan returned (with Rachel Milne and Joana Crisóstomo) in another original production, "Duplicity". This time Midge managed to create two characters on stage simultaneously. What could be next?

With many of the crew working behind the scenes, Midge and Nathan are under the spotlight again with new cast member Sam Pike. Once again the company have produced the work of another author (Howard Brenton), and have moved from historical fiction to historical re-enactment.

"Christie in Love" was inspired by the hue and cry that followed the discovery of the trussed corpses of three London women in the recently vacated apartment of John Reginald Christie and his wife Ethel in 1953. The grisly cache was discovered by two West Indian itinerant workers to whom Christie had illegally sub-let the flat. The house was 10 Rillington Place.

A police search uncovered three more bodies. Ethel Christie was discovered under the floorboards and the bones of two more unknown women were found in the garden. The revelations threw new light on three further deaths. In 1950 Timothy Evans, another tenant in the house, had been condemned and executed for the murder of his baby daughter Geraldine after his wife Beryl was found wrapped in a blanket in the outside washhouse with her child - both strangled.

Following the inquiry into this miscarriage of justice, which contributed to the case for the abolition of the death sentence for murder in 1965, Howard Benton reworked the interaction between Christie and his police interrogators to create "Christie in Love".

Inspired by Jerzy Grotowski's investigation of experimental theatre in Poland, "Towards a Poor Theatre", Benton's work is perfectly suited to the cramped environment of a pub basement. The close proximity of the actors and audience impresses every utterance, every gesture or facial expression, on the senses of the observers. Even the smell of the props and costumes create a lasting impression.

Benton's harsh use of obscenities (strictly taboo in public in 1970 when the play opened) shears away any complacency about this 'historical' case. The ever present danger of sexual predation, and the dehumanising effect on those responsible for uncovering the facts, is brought dramatically into the present.

Nathan Simpson's police inspector is chillingly unmoved by the enormity of the crimes he has uncovered, but gives full rein to his disgust when confronted by the perpetrator. Sam Pike as the obedient and conscientious constable, does not share his inspector's self-control. He cannot help dwelling on the sickening details, which he finds all to easy to conjure up in his mind. Both are profoundly and adversely affected.

Most disturbing of all is Christie himself, played by Midge Mullin. In privacy he relives his memories of sexual inadequacy and shame, and his misdirected revenge on the women who fell into his clutches. (Coal gas was not replaced by natural gas for domestic use until 1959, and allegedly Christie had found a way to trick women into inhaling the carbon monoxide rich coal gas by passing it though an 'inhaler' containing a solution of Friar's Balsam.)

In the presence of the inspector, he becomes servile but intractable. His petty pride, and misplaced sense of propriety, act as his only defence against the charge of indefensible actions. As he struggles to counter the accusations against him, and minimise the disgrace of his downfall, every incautious movement and every bead of sweat is presented to the audience in inescapable close-up.

Midge's performance is quite stunning. Apparently gentle and defensive, he reveals his true menace when pushed by the police officers. That extinct species, the murderer in an era of execution for murder, is recreated convincingly on stage.

"Christie in Love" continues for two more nights (twice nightly on Wednesday and Thursday this week). Tickets are available from the Bike Shed Theatre (which is NOT the venue for the play) or on the door - if available! For anyone who misses this run, there will be another performance at the Barnfield Theatre on Friday 31 October.

In a similar vein, Dartington Playgoers are returning to the work of Harold Pinter in the same week. Their production of "The Birthday Party" will be on at Dartington Space (Dartington Hall Estate near Totnes) from Tuesday 28 October until Saturday 1 November.

Midge Mullin is John Christie
Howard Brenton's "Christie in Love"
(Photos by Matt Austin)

Repeated at Barnfield Theatre
Friday 31 October (see below)
Substance & Shadow Theatre
Cellar Bar, City Gate Hotel, Exeter
Tuesday-Thursday 21-23 October
First Performance 7pm
Second Performance 8.45pm
A Play by Howard Brenton
John Christie: Midge Mullin
Tickets: £8
Box Office: 01392 434169

Substance & Shadow Theatre Company
Dream Catcher Theatre Company
Barnfield Theatre
Friday 31 October 8pm
Howard Brenton: "Christie in Love"
(Substance & Shadow)
New Work: "Ma Cherie a Mort"
(Dream Catcher Theatre)
Tickets: £10
Box Office: 01392 271808
Book Online

Dartington Playgoers
Studio 1 Dartington Space
(Dartington Hall Estate TQ9 6EL)
Tuesday 28 October
Saturday 1 November 7.30pm
'A comedy of menace' by Harold Pinter
Director: Patrick Cooper
Meg: Sarah Thompson
Petey: Gordon Frow
Stanley: Giles Ashton
Goldberg: Tim McGill
McCann: Pete O'Keefe
Lulu: Rosie Race
Tickets: £10 (student/unwaged £6)
Box Office: 01803 847070
Book Online

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