Fred, Ted, Jack & Harold – Saturday 7 July at Swindon Arts Centre
Society drums into us that crime doesn’t pay, but apparently in hell it does! The snag is you have to spend eternity working in a stuffy office, filing useless paperwork and putting up with inappropriate banter from the boss who has a penchant for bloodlust. But what if the inhabitants of this soul-crushing environment didn’t realise they were serial killers?
The Darkest of Dark
This is billed as the ‘darkest of dark comedies’, written by Matt Fox and directed by Olly Webb. Unless you’ve been living in a hole for the past thirty years you will be familiar with at least two out of the four progtonists in the play’s title: the men the UK media dubbed as ‘house of horrors’ murderer Fred West and ‘doctor Death’ Harold Shipman. The other life-serving desk jockeys are American kidnapper and necrophiliac Ted Bundy, and the world’s most famous murderer-turned-myth, Jack the Ripper, only in this play Jack is a she. Confused? Strap yourselves in as it’s about to get weirder.
The show opens with Fred, Ted, Jack and Harold chatting anxiously about sitting alone with Liz, their boss, in her office, to discuss their annual reviews. Liz, it transpires, is another famous murderer, which isn’t revealed until act two (I’m pleased to say I worked it out through my morbid fascination with gory history), and she is keen to make her minions suffer as much as possible, mainly by depriving them of the memories of their evil deeds whilst on Earth. As the play progresses Fred and co conspire against Liz and devise a way to get back at her for her abuse by taking advantage of her dopey personal assistant Myra (Moors murderess and willing participant to Liz’s every desire), only Myra isn’t as dumb as she looks and is every bit as cruel as Liz.
Two Acts of Office Politricks
Matt Fox crams a lot of subjects into two acts, prompting the audience to think about morality, workplace stereotypes and office politics, and it is evident that he has heavily researched each subject. The gender-swapping of Jack, for example, played by Molly Campbell, might be seen as a cheap way of female inclusion into the play, but back in 1888 a woman named Mary Pearcey was accused of being the notorious serial killer. Fox also doesn’t hold back when it comes to profanity and sexual lewdness in his writing. The intention is crystal clear: he wants us to feel as uncomfortable as Fred, Ted, Jack and Harold do, sat on their office chairs and staring blankly at the audience, wondering why they’re doing the same tedious job day-in day-out. Most of the time the humour was justified – mocking the banality of personal development plans and the state of the office canteen – but there were points in the piece where the crimes themselves were turned into jokes, usually centred on Fred West and Harold Shipman, where even twenty years on it just hit too close to home and were almost distasteful.
The director made good use of a minimalist set consisting only of four chairs, one desk and a laptop, and set an eerie tone with mood lightning and background sounds of breathing and white noise. Notable mentions must go to Peter Hynds who was extremely convincing as dim-witted yokel Fred West, and Heather Cowley giving a solid performance as the beauty-obsessed Myra Hindley.
If you aren’t easily offended this is definitely worth a watch: a thought-provoking piece that doesn’t shy aware from the crass nature of its characters or subject matter.
Helen Pain – Reviewing theatrical murder most horrid