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Normal by Anthony Neilson at Styx – Review

Normal Production Photo
Cathy Walker, credit Kathy Trevelyan

Is normal really a subjective concept relative to context? Is it a bourgeois ideal, or perhaps a convention used to impose predictability? A child, with no hope of innocence – violently abused, both sexually and emotionally, and devoid of any moral baseline. Is it so hard to understand why such a child could then become a violent criminal? If the answer is no, then can we suggest that in this context, the outcome is normal?

Rift’s production of Anthony Neilson’s Normal, currently playing at Styx, is theatre of cruelty at its best. Inspired by the killings of Peter Kurten, the ‘Dusseldorf Ripper’ or ‘Vampire of Dusseldorf’, Normal is a retelling of the violent crimes perpetrated by Kurten in the late 1920s. Directed by Emma Baggott, the production explores his motivations and relationships and is a no-holds-barred, chilling insight into the mind and life of a psychopath.

Grace Smart’s minimalist set is the perfect mix of clinical simplicity and overarching danger. Above the central table hangs a foreboding installation of open scissors, carrying with it an infinite number of metaphors relating to looming doom and violence.

The musical underscoring and shifts in lighting are exquisitely subtle throughout the piece, sustaining tension and creating an ominous tone. The exception being the deafening base notes used to scare the living daylights out of the audience; not quite as subtle, yet certainly effective all the same! Brace yourself, for one reason or another, throughout this production, you’ll jump… more than once!

Richard Ede is frighteningly convincing in the role of Peter Kurten. His commitment, sincerity and unapologetic honesty are completely disarming. Charming like all brilliant predators, the intensity with which he gazes around the space leaves you both mesmerised and with the distinct feeling that something is very innately wrong in this man. His power over Justus and the ways in which he manipulates the vulnerabilities evident in the young lawyer, leave us wondering which of these two men really conforms to normal; the one a direct product of his upbringing, or the one entrenched in denial?

Corey Montague Sholay’s Justus, demonstrates perhaps the greatest character arc. Despite his professional lawyer-esque distance, Sholay initially presents us with a warm and grounded individual. As the piece progresses, however, we gradually see layers torn away to reveal a wounded interior. Sholay shows undeniable skill in this transition, fully demonstrating the severity of the change but doing so in a manner that is organic enough to be truly sickening. Cathy Walker’s Frau Kurten completes the cast and brings her own enigmatic dichotomy of stillness and disquiet. Another tortured soul and manipulative in her own way, Walker brings the underlying tragedy of the piece to life; when passion dies but need perseveres.

Not for the fainthearted, but riveting and engaging for those who like something challenging, Normal is a dissociative assault on the senses that leaves you feeling like you’ve emerged wide awake from a nightmare. Luckily for audience members, the venue sports a welcoming outdoor bar perfect for a drink, mingle and debrief. A superb piece of theatre in an exciting and upcoming fringe venue. You’ll love it, but you’ll need that drink!

4 and a Half stars

Review by Cassandra Griffin

RIFT presents NORMAL, Anthony Neilson’s gruesome retelling of the Dusseldorf Ripper case.
Director Emma Baggott’s intimate restaging of this experimental classic runs from 14th – 25th March 2017.

Normal interrogates how society constructs behavior and how we are treated if we deviate from social norms. Through the trial of the Dusseldorf Ripper, Neilson foreshadows the objectification of the body as political tool and pokes loudly at us, reminding us that normal is of our own making.

14th – 25th March, 7.30 2017
STYX // 5 Ashley Road // Tottenham // N17 9LJ
http://www.styx.space/

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