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Aalst

Pol Heyvaert and Dimitri Verhulst in a new version by Duncan McLean
National Theatre of Scotland
Soho Theatre
(2007)

Production photo

The latest play from the National Theatre of Scotland asks some basic but very fundamental questions about society and the extremities of human behaviour.

Aalst is based on a true story from Belgium and is presented as a Verbatim drama in which a seemingly ordinary, if downhearted and underfed couple, Cathy and Michael Delaney are interviewed by an unseen male voice (Gary Lewis), presumably a judge.

They certainly have some questions to answer, having cold-bloodedly murdered their two children, a baby girl and two days later her seven-year-old brother.

For 75 minutes, they are grilled as the interrogator tries to discover the motivations behind their acts and also attempts to understand their more general attitudes to life and society. Strangely, he is more critical and judgemental regarding their unapologetic desire to sponge off the state than the physical abuse that they mete out and which eventually turns into cold blooded infanticide.

The explanations are never really forthcoming. Both murderers had been abused as children and inevitably their children missed out on parental love as a result, getting more than their fair share of maltreatment.

However, as the evening develops and despite deliberate repetition, the reason for which is only apparent at the end, these seem like fairly ordinary parents. Yes, they are deprived but they make hay while the social system pays. They can be violent but no more than many others. The difference is that this couple do not know where to stop and they eventually suffocated a much-loved baby girl and stabbed a little boy, apparently to save them from the depredations that a repetition of their own lives would have caused.

This is strong stuff that ultimately comes to the worrying conclusion that even the murderers of their own children can be fairly normal people who may just have a few genes out of place or have been victims for so long that their own sense of morality has been perverted.

Aalst can be disturbing in this low-key production directed by the Belgian who devised it, Pol Heyvaert. It is made by the totally convincing naturalistic performances of Kate Dickie, who at times sounds robotic possibly because Cathy is heavily sedated, and David McKay, looking permanently hounded and remorseful. The impact is so strong that by the end, there is a temptation to look around you and wonder whether any of the seemingly normal people around you might be putative murderers.

Rachel Lynn Brody reviewed this production in Edinburgh and Peter Lathan in South Shields

Reviewer: Philip Fisher