Normal, Anthony Neilson, Burdall’s Yard, 24th and 30th May.
In Normal, Peter Kurten, the Düsseldorf Ripper, has been caught and is awaiting sentencing for nine murders. It is the job of Justus Wehner, his young lawyer, to prove his client’s insanity and thus save him from execution. Regardless of Kurten, Normal itself is an insane piece of theatre; also brilliant.
The play’s direction under Joshua Rennie is centred around principles of dissonance and incongruity. Whilst some darker moments are left to brood in the open, challenging and uncomfortable, others are twisted by carnivalesque charm into expertly balanced, grinning displays. The level of manipulation is impeccable: the audience is by turns amused, exhilarated, moved and unsettled, often within the space of a few minutes. Clearly, there is great attention to detail in reviving Anthony Neilson’s script, in particular with light and shadow being employed to great effect, along with intuitive use of music and recordings.
The cast themselves are born naturals, brimming with chemistry. Martin Todorov seemed to take as much delight in playing the Ripper as the audience did watching him: dangerous but controlled, entertaining but uncomfortable, even darkly erotic. It is impressive that he staved off caricature, or Hannibal Lecter rip-off, to deliver a sophisticated and deeply disturbed vision of his own. At the same time, Bill Ashbridge gave a masterful performance as Kurten’s lawyer. His transformations were captivating to watch, handled with abundant proficiency as his character was exposed to increasingly troubling confessions. Though only appearing later on, Leah Mae Brine was by no means overshadowed, instantly rounding out the show with a levelled performance of Frau Kurten that showed an intimate understanding of character. The play’s most acute moments landed perfectly thanks to her abilities.
Normal is a wonder to watch through all its distortions and twistings of reality, making for a gleeful, macabre cabaret.