Monday 14 August 2017

Theatre Review- Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story

Title: Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story
Writer: Stephen Dolginoff

Director: Guy Retallack
Performers: Ellis Dackombe, Harry Downes, and Kris Rawlinson
Seen at: C Too Edinburgh

Review: Nathan Leopold stands before a parole board for the fifth time, having been in prison for 33 years for murdering a fourteen year old boy. The parole board wants to know: why? Flashbacks detail the story of how Leopold and his lover Richard Loeb, progress from petty crime to murder, and where they went from there.

The musical is based upon the true story, with some changes to details. It is very effectively the story of Leopold and Loeb; nobody else appears on stage, not even their victim, Bobby Franklin. The parole board are disembodied voices.   The characterisation is more simple than what I have inferred from a little research after watching the play; rather than both men participating in the crime equally, this Loeb is the ringmaster, continually manipulating Leopold and suggesting a victim and method, and Leopold is a lovestruck accomplice, who will do anything to keep Loeb in in his life.  Sometimes the writing is odd -  Leopold comes out with simple statements that seem out of place considering the more elevated language in other parts, and the high intelligence of his real-life counterpart- but overall it creates characters that are interesting, and compelling to watch.

The writing of the book and lyrics is nothing compared to the writing of the music, which is incredibly  rich and complex, and reminds me of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. Kris Rawlinson on the piano creates the perfect atmosphere, heavy and intense, in both the songs and scene transitions.
The two other performers, Ellis Dackombe playing Loeb and Harry Downes playing Leopold,  both make an incredibly strong professional debut. If I had to choose, I’d say Dackombe was stronger, just because I still have the chills remembering his performance of “Roadster”, already creepy considering it sounds like a seduction and we know what  is going to follow it, and made even more disturbing by Dacombe's delivery. However, Downes'

performance is also captivating, especially his pleading in “Thrill Me” and the way he performs Leopold’s revelation at the end. Together, they have great chemistry, both physically and vocally, and they clearly reflect dynamics of the relationship.

Just as the music and the focus on the characters is stripped back, the staging is equally minimalist. All black furniture, a few props on shelves, and very effective lighting work to create a variety of scenes, such as a burning warehouse, a police interrogation, and a car sitting in the dark on night of the murder. The venue is relatively small; the five rows means everyone is close, heightening the intimacy.

This show is definitely one to see if you want to see a show about manipulation and motivation, with three brilliant performers and an atmosphere that is thrilling and intense.  
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Thanks for taking time to read this!
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Nina xxx

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