Christie In Love
Tom Manson, Intermission Bristol ★★★
Christie In Love is one of Howard Brenton’s earliest plays, andSubstance & Shadow deliver this dark, claustrophobic three-hander with great skill. It was originally written for a touring company with limited resources, so it is admirably suited for a small venue such as The Wardrobe Theatre. The play focuses on the motives of John Christie, who strangled at least eight women between 1943 and 1953. Among his victims were Beryl and Geraldine Evans, the wife and daughter of Timothy Evans, who was falsely accused of their murder and hanged in 1950.
Before the action begins we hear a recorded voice recounting Christie’s crimes and telling us that he had a ‘normal’ childhood; he hated his mother and his sisters. We are told he had a ‘normal’ marriage, too, and that Christie was a man who ‘kept himself to himself’. Brenton is taking us back to a time and place where misogyny was the norm, even if it was often hidden beneath a veneer of quiet respectability. In the opening scene we meet two police officers; a young constable, and a buttoned-up, militaristic Inspector. In a slow, almost ritualistic fashion the constable is digging for bones in the garden of 10 Rillington Place, occasionally pausing to recite obscene limericks. He seems to be more puzzled than amused by their crude sexism. The Inspector, almost rigid with his own importance, condescends to allow the constable a swig from his hip flask, and tells him a singularly unfunny dirty joke. An all-pervading contempt for women is in the air. Sam Pike portrays the constable as a young man clearly out of his depth, while Nathan Simpson gives us an Inspector who is scarcely able to contain his distaste for humanity in general. The body of a young woman is discovered, a ‘tart’ it is assumed.
Christie then appears, as if bursting from the ground. When interrogated by the Inspector Christie initially seems to be the epitome of banal, sad normality, a rent-paying tenant who nevertheless clings with pathetic dignity to the idea that he lives in his own home. But Brenton quickly leaves us in no doubt that this is a man with a deep loathing of women, and in Midge Mullin’s performance this passionate hatred is conveyed with terrifying intensity. The play moves towards its most disturbing scene, where we see Christie’s encounter with his young victim…
Christie In Love does not make for comfortable viewing, not least because it perhaps suggests that Christie’s horrible perversions were but an extreme expression of a more general malaise, but Substance & Shadow’s production is uniformly well acted, gripping throughout and certainly thought-provoking.