Roberto Zucco

Bernard-Marie Koltès & Martin Crimp

August 012

Chapter, Cardiff

From 09 July 2014 to 19 July 2014

Review by Othniel Smith

August 012’s inaugural production, last year, was a deservedly much-lauded, high-tech take on the eventful reign of the Emperor Caligula. In their latest show, the subject is a villain from more recent history.  

Roberto Succo killed his parents at the age of 19; completed a degree whilst in a psychiatric prison, then escaped and embarked on a crime spree across several European countries. This included the killing of two policemen, and the rape and murder of two teenage girls. He committed suicide in his prison cell in 1988, aged 26.

Roberto Zucco, inspired by Succo's life and crimes, was the final play written by French dramatist Bernard-Marie Koltès, before his premature death in 1989. It was translated into English by his fellow absurdist Martin Crimp in 1997.

This production takes place in Chapter’s small studio space, the floor littered with confetti-like strips of silver paper which are being casually scuffed through by cast and chorus as the audience is ushered in, to sit in rows facing one another. Buddug James Jones’s set is deceptively lo-fi.

The text takes us through a number of episodes in Roberto’s life, focussing on his involvement with a family, the daughter of which he (apparently inadvertently) turns towards prostitution. Mathilde Lopez’s direction is typically kinetic and immersive.

Neither author nor director nor actor succumb to the temptation to paint Zucco as either a loveable rogue or a hapless victim of society. Adam Redmore’s anti-hero is an empty-eyed blank canvas, drifting through an immoral world. He describes himself as invisible; nevertheless, he is seen to be effortlessly attractive to woman, even as he threatens one of them with an act of unspeakable evil.

Other cast members play multiple roles—Bethan Mai is especially effective as Zucco’s naïve love interest, Joanna Simpkins as a brothel-keeper, John Norton as an elderly, possibly lecherous commuter who befriends him. They are joined by a choir, led by Sara Terrell, whose singing punctuates the action, providing an ethereal counterpoint to the brutality on show.

There is also a degree of audience participation, which is problematic—there are few things more likely to yank one out of the world of a play than the fear that one might suddenly be called upon to take part. Nevertheless, this does make for a beautiful climactic moment.

The production is grimly humorous, and slyly sexy; this, in conjunction with Zucco’s personal magnetism might also be seen as a problem—after all, Succo was a real killer with real victims. One can imagine the distaste at a phantasmagorically musical take on the life of a murderer from recent British headlines. And the rapes go unmentioned here.

Perhaps the point is to make us complicit in Zucco’s immorality by seducing us into being entertained by it. In which case, the piece succeeds admirably. This is theatre at its most involving and provocative.