This early play by Howard Brenton was originally commissioned by Portable Theatre in 1969, a small company run by David Hare and Tony Bicat. It was meant to be part of a series of short plays about the hidden evil in modern British society, but Christie In Love was the only one that was ever written.
The protagonist of the play is John Christie, a notorious serial killer who murdered at least six women between 1943 and 1953, including his wife, before he was arrested and sentenced to death. Meanwhile his innocent neighbour Evans had been arrested and hanged for the alleged murder of some of Christie’s victims. Christie does not appear until later in the play. The first scene opens with a police constable (Daniel Buckley) digging in the backyard for Christie’s victims. He is deeply disturbed by Christie’s perversion and scared of what he is going to find so his efforts are half-hearted at best. Trying to pluck up courage by reciting misogynist limericks, he is soon joined by a more pragmatic police inspector (Jake Curran) who is less than satisfied with the constable’s efforts. To cheer the man up, the inspector joins in the constable’s obscene jokes. At long last, the cry: “Bones!” can be heard in Notting Hill.
When Christie (Murray Taylor) first appears, he is shown as a psychopathic personality, wearing a huge mask that covers his entire head, expressing his hatred for women. It is hard to say whether Christie is more frightening in his violent perversion or in his banality when he turns into an unassuming and diffident postal clerk whilst being interrogated by the inspector.
Mary Franklin’s intelligent and hard-hitting production of Brenton’s darkly funny play has a slow start, devoting almost half of the running time to the search for Christie’s victims. The scenes between the police constable and his superior are a witty and absurd double-act with a touch of Samuel Beckett and plenty of physical comedy. The mood changes somewhat when John Christie is shown in all his glory, barking out his hatred in flashes of white light that make his performance appears even more unsettling (lighting design by Seth Rook-Williams). The set consists of a wire pit filled with crumpled newspapers, serving as Christie’s backyard and hiding place (design by Christopher Hone).
The play was probably more shocking before serial killers became en vogue – Hannibal Lecter or Dexter come to mind – but this theatrical and thought-provoking production still manages to disturb.
Reviewed by: Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Chris Tribble
Christie in Love is playing at King’s Head Theatre until 18th June