Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Thrill Me
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Thrill Me
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Thrill Me
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11 Apr REVIEW: Thrill Me

Thrill Me(1)For a teenager to read, and feel inspired by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche is hardly an uncommon thing. And for the parents of such a teenager, whilst it might seem a curious interest, the overarching response would more than likely be pleased – impressed – at their interest in philosophy, widening their mind and challenging their own system of beliefs. It’s unlikely that any parent would be concerned that it might inspire their teenager to kill. But when Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold finally confessed to the murder of a fourteen year old child, Robert “Bobby” Franks, in Chicago, 1924, it was the writings of the great philosopher that they claimed had inspired them.

Nietzsche’s idea of “supermen” had got inside Richard’s head, and he knew, with absolute certainty, that he was one of these transcendent humans, that operate on a higher intellectual plane than the rest of humanity. As a superman, he was above the arbitrary laws and rules – including moral and ethical laws – that bind the unimportant remainder of society. And that meant not only that he was at leisure to do as he pleased, but as he saw it, that he and Nathan should plan and execute the ultimate crime to prove their status.

Unlike most stage depictions of murder, the killing of Bobby being an intellectual pursuit rather than a crime of passion, makes it infinitely trickier to stage, as there’s far less scope for the kind of dramatic action scenes that get pulses racing, and it presents the challenge of explaining a whole philosophy in a way that’s clear, concise, and doesn’t require a degree to understand. Achieving this, therefore, is rather impressive, but consequently, the musical does struggle with a lack of energy, as the absence of passion (even within their relationship) screams out in a way the characters never do. Utterly in keeping with the sentiment of the show, i t means the whole musical has an unnerving calmness about it, the name, Thrill Me, serving to compound the sinister composure with which the characters act.

Thrill Me(2)In taking the form of a one-act musical, what momentum it does manage to generate is well maintained, but the purpose of Thrill Me isn’t to present an exhilarating whodunnit drenched in jeopardy. Constructed like a real life Shakespearean tragedy, what happened is clear from the opening seconds, moving the focus to the why and the how, the far more interesting aspects to the story.

In considering the circumstances, the relationship between the murderers takes centre stage, played expertly by Jo Parsons and Ben Woods as Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb respectively. In a pair of superbly pointed performances, to say the relationship suffered an asymmetry of power would be rather an understatement – depicted as not so much manipulation as blatant puppetry of the mind. Certainly disconcerting, the actors carry the show along assuredly, much like the slightly soporific piano score that aurally hypnotises and creates atmosphere without the need for complex scenery.

A show lovely in the simplicity of its staging, director Guy Retallack avoids the temptation of being gratuitously graphic, his show instead boasting crystalline storytelling, most notably as the teenagers make increasingly frantic calls to each other in “I’m Trying to Think,” realising the police are closing in, and feeling the nooses tightening around their necks. Of course, their story doesn’t end at the gallows thanks to their defence lawyer, a certain Clarence Darrow, but instead a sentence of “Life Plus 99 Years” is handed down to both – which is incidentally also the name of Nathan Leopold’s autobiography which was published in 1958, the same year he was released on parole.

Thrill Me takes a fascinating look at the relationship between two privileged, educated teenagers, the circumstances that led to them planning and committing murder, and the intellectual justifications they made to themselves – and each other – afterwards. A classy production executed brilliantly, it’s a musical free of disposable tabloid gimmick, that’s as sinister it is thought provoking.

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Images: Nick Rutter

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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