The Bad Seed is an excellent 1954 melodrama, about the circumstances surrounding the death of an innocent young schoolboy in an American, Mid Western town . First performed on the 8th December 1954, on Broadway, it opened in the same year that the original novel was published. The award winning play was adapted by Maxwell Anderson from William March’s popular novel.
The play all takes place in a single comfortable family room. Between scenes a slow haunting melody is played on a single, unseen musical instrument. The tune is the 1960’s Springfield’s song “Say I Won’t Be There”, written by the Springfields to a beautiful traditional folk tune. It is only when you consider the song’s lyrics that you begin to sense the songs relevance.
“Yesterday I was dreaming
But my dream came tumbling down”
The Penmark Family seem to live a perfect life. A kind, loving father Kenneth, a sweetheart of a mommy, Christine and an eight year old daughter, Rhoda who is perfect in every way. All in all they are a happy, loving family living the American dream.
Rhoda Penmark appears to be the perfect little lady, well groomed and modest. To their landlady, Monica, she appears to be a sweet, polite and very intelligent child. Monica is totally beguiled by her. Her parents adore her. Is it all too good to be true?
When a young boy, Claud, who had beaten Rhoda to a school Penmanship medal, is drowned on a school field trip, the school believes it to be nothing more than a tragic accident, Rhoda’s mother however, begins to have nagging doubts, especially when she finds Claude’s disputed Penmanship medal in a box owned by Rhoda.
This play is beautifully produced and despite being performed on a small stage, the cast of eleven are given full reign to really act. There are no weaknesses in the cast, though finding a dramatic but subtle actress, who can appear to be eight years old, did perhaps require some compromises. Rebecca Rayne, who plays Rhoda, is excellent and a joy to watch. I am not sure of her actual age but I would guess that it is unlikely that she could have been a member of the National Youth Theatre at only three years old. But you soon suspend your disbelief.
I was also particularly impressed by Brian Merry who played the aggressive, simple minded, Leroy, the apartment Janitor who fatally misjudges the situation. Rhoda’s mother Christine was played by the excellent Beth Eyre who’s character went from loving doting parent to a mass of doubts, fears and anger.
So, who done it? Was it murder or, despite appearances, just an accident? If it was Rhoda what could possibly be the reason, surely not just the medal which admittedly Rhoda coveted. Was it something that happened in her family life or could it have been something in the blood. All is revealed in the dramatic, violent and shocking denouement. I feel quite sure that no member of the audience had guessed the final outcome, judging by the sound of indrawn breaths at the finish.
Reviewed by Graham Archer
Photo: David Monteith-Hodge
The Bad Seed plays at Jack Studio Theatre until 1 April 2017