Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Norman Bartholomew is fascinated by real-life murderers. He seems to know the details of all the famous cases. It is an obsession that equips him with the knowledge to perpetrate the perfect crime. But why should he want to kill the pretty girl whose portrait he has just been painting?
For twenty minutes, without a single line of dialogue, we see him strangle her, strip her, dump her in a bath and then proceed to chop her up before consigning bits of her body to burn in his stove. It is a fascinating piece of theatre that Bradley Clarkson as Norman and his director Tim Frost have managed beautifully.
You watch for what he may have forgotten that is going to give him away—or where the production has slipped up. There are errors for sure but they don’t matter. When a bluff policeman comes knocking on the door because a neighbour has reported his every action, you might imagine all is up for Norman but Shaffer’s plot has so many twists and turns it turns into black and bloody farce.
From imitating the Brides in the Bath murder, Norman moves on to copy Crippen, digging a lime pit in the cellar in which to dump his wife, but that’s all I’m going to tell you or it will spoil things.
Forknall is Norman’s dishy girlfriend Milly and Zoë Teverson is the wife Elizabeth he’s going to bury in the basement; this keeps you wondering where it can go next. There is a little bit of fake philosophy thrown in for good measure, but this really is pure entertainment.
Philip Lindley’s setting exposes everything from kitchen and lounge to bathroom. Like much of the play it isn’t entirely believable but it is all part of the mechanism that makes this cleverly contrived piece work.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton