Black box theatre is one of the handiest environments you can build a theatre show in; using the dark background and minimal sets allow audiences to focus on the characters and story, and enjoy a level of intimacy that just can’t be created any other way. It is also incredibly cheap, making it very appealing to use by theatre students, fringe-goers, and young theatre groups. That’s not to say that it’s not a successful form of theatre, in fact I’d say that The Murderer by company Clown Funeral demonstrates just how effective it can be. This is a slick show with high levels of suspense and an off-taste sense of humour.
In this cast of three, there are two protagonists: The Murderer and The Carer, never known by any other name. Seemingly antithetical, it is the job of The Carer to observe, support, and keep track of the progress of The Murderer as they attempt to be rehabilitated into society. Through repetitive schedules and days together, we see their relationship develop and change, seemingly for the better, but sometimes for the worse.
It’s an interesting dynamic between our two leads (who are also supported by a third cast member who plays multiple characters throughout), as there’s always a slight degree of animosity between them. For as much as they bond, The Carer always insists on referring to The Murderer as ‘The Murderer’, which continues to annoy them. In turn, she constantly appears to be pushing at the boundaries of her restraints, although admittedly in understandable ways. It seems to fluctuate back and forth, building to a breaking point that you expect to be delivered in one way and comes out completely different.
There is some awkwardness in the movement of the production, such as characters moving very directly and with intention around the stage that clearly indicates the rehearsed blocking. This isn’t always a bad thing, as the relationship is meant to be uncomfortable. But it does carries through a time where this isn’t supported narratively, and thus the production can feel a bit wooden. It is saved, however, by having a very direct and punchy script that knows how to deliver a joke at the right time to save a moment from getting too awkward. The Murderer is a show that sticks to a set-out delivery system but knows how to wiggle and deliver changes from within that system, so there’s a nice subtle story that grows slowly for the audience’s enjoyment.
An unfortunate mark against The Murderer, however, is from a technical standpoint. This wouldn’t be an issue if watched live, but the recorded edition seems to be put together from multiple different cameras and perhaps even different performances. There’s not much consistency in the composition and quality of the shots, and they’re cut together at strange times, including in the middle of sentences and scenes. This takes you out of the production occasionally, but you can soon find a groove again, so it’s a minor mark at most.
One final acknowledgement should go to the set; three movable door frames which give the stage a distinctive look and allow for some interesting framing devices, as characters step and lean in and out to demonstrate changes in scene and conversation.
You can watch The Murderer here.
Words by Mischa Alexander.
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