After researching the horrifying truths behind the Dusseldorf Ripper, I was sceptical about how Anthony Neilson might have adapted the story into an engaging and ethical piece of theatre. Despite my inital quarms, Open Theatre’s Normal (directed by Eve Walton) managed to deliver a chilling yet charming performance that allowed the audience to penetrate the mind of a killer in an interesting way that I had never seen done before. Members of the audience were allowed to determine for themselves if the Dusseldorg Ripper was, in fact, normal- and I had the best time doing so.
Even though Walton’s cast was small, it certainly did not lack in talent. Daisy Kakkar, Tom Davey and Salim Kalache all delivered impressive performances, as well as a coherent and impressive understanding of the plays heinous events and context. Kalache’s controlled energy and enchanting aura throughout in his portrayl of Peter Kürten (the serial killer known for terrorising the people of Dusseldorf during the 1930s) captivated and disturbed the audience all at the same time. This contrasted to Davey’s innocent betrayal of Justus Wehner, which he conducted with a pure vulnerability that allowed me to see how terrifyingly difficult it must be to work as a defence lawyer on cases like this. Seeing the power and dynamics between these two characters was as fascinating as it was impressive.
In terms of staging, the decision to perform in traverse allowed me to be jarringly immersed in the horror of the piece, and come face to face with its intensity. Upon first impression, the minimal set could appear basic and unimaginative, but I found that it allowed me to focus on the thoughtful performances without being distracted.
In terms of direction, I particularly enjoyed the interjections of symbolistic physical theatre (choreographed by Aimee Cross) that were interweaved between the powerful dialogue. This gave the play scope to convey a rich blend of naturalistic acting, interesting imagery and thought-provoking symbolism. Kakkar’s depiction of a childlike doll through mask work was haunting and so engaging to watch, whilst also providing a clear contrast to her tentative role as Kürten’s wife. The use of projection that followed her through the forest created a tantalising juxtaposition to the violent choreography occurring on stage. In fact, all the of the audio-visual elements were incredibly well executed, and created a meaningful commentary for the play’s narrative.
This spine-tingling thriller was not for the weak minded, yet I believe it was a mature, slick and memorable adaptation of Neilson’s work that shed light upon the atrocities committed in Dusseldorf. I give my commendations to the production team for creating such a smooth and professional piece- notably Eve Walton for her ambitious directorial choices that really paid off.
I think it is fair to say… This performance was not normal, it was exceptional.
Words by Hannah Rooney.