Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story

Thu 3rd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Laura Wilsmore

at 18:05 on 19th Aug 2017

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If you want to feel shaken, mesmerised and terrified all at once, you must see ‘Thrill Me’. It is, without a doubt, a masterpiece of a show that haunts you long after the final note trills. It is 1958, Nathan Leopold (played by Harry Downes) enters and begins to re-tell the events of 1924 to the probation board. Along with Richard Loeb (played by Ellis Dackombe), the pair murdered a fourteen-year-old boy in hope of committing the crime of the century. Based on real-life events, this musical is powerfully stunning. With a voice like silk, Downes captivates the audience with a sombre tone that constantly left you wanting to know more.

To be able to sing and emote such complex characters is no mean feat, but both Downes and Dackombe make this look effortless. Leopold’s infatuation with Loeb was utterly compelling. Downes maintained a constant connection with the audience, allowing us to become immersed in the action and make judgements for ourselves. This was matched by Dackombe’s scarily good portrayal of the twisted, morbid fascination of a killer. I was constantly on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear what will be uttered next, despite knowing the inevitable outcome of the story itself. One particular moment that was spine chillingly eerie was the convincing of the child to enter Loeb’s car. We, the audience, became the child. Singing to us, Dackombe softly enticed us to join him with a slight smile etched on his face. With a single orange ‘headlight’ cutting through the darkness and the piano rising in a crescendo, it was truly sickening. Together, the pair delicately portrayed the complex, twisted relationship between Leopold and Leob, hooking the audience with their close interaction and flawless harmonies. Not a word was lost in the show, with such incredible diction and tone, you could not help but soak up every last syllable.

The music, written by Stephen Dolginoff and directed by Kris Rawlinson, consistently set the pace of the piece, underpinning the tone and mood of every scene. The singular voice of the piano ominously offset the dialogue and vocals throughout. Despite one or two hiccups with the sound of the microphones, nothing could detract from the poignancy of the show. The songs would always evoke just the right amount of intrigue and repulsion, with one song debating ‘if we killed my brother John’ balancing dark humour and horror in the space of a few minutes. Simple, yet symbolic, set and costume design by James Turner added to the character of the piece, with black prison bars looming over the stage and a few significant and historically accurate props. Richard Williamson’s lighting design accomplished remarkable feats, with the creation of a fire through lighting so realistic that many audience members (including myself) had to check that there was not really a flame behind us.

As the story spirals to its historic end, I was left feeling physically moved. To articulate such horrific events and unimaginably perverse characters through the medium of performance, song and set in an hour and a half is astounding. I felt compelled to give a standing ovation and implore you to see for yourself why I, along with so many others, have been impacted by this show.

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Clarissa Mayhew

at 13:23 on 20th Aug 2017

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Wow. Utterly thrilling, Stephen Dolginoff’s dark musical drama captivated the audience from start to finish as an enthusiastic standing ovation proved. A psychologically twisted story, it follows the true events of one of America’s most notorious crimes - the murder of young Bobby Frank by wealthy Chicago law students, Nathan Leopold (Harry Downes) and Richard Loeb (Ellis Dackombe).

Returning the show to the Fringe for a second year, Guy Retallack directs a sharp and focused performance, embracing the dramatic potency of the sordid and passionate dynamics of the young men’s homoerotic relationship. Dackombe’s Richard drips with arrogance and privilege, convincingly displaying the coldblooded manipulative tendency that enables him to control and coerce weaker Nathan. The sexual dependency of Nathan upon Richard and the demands he makes upon the less willing man complicate the submissive/dominant divide, adding to the complexity of the relationship tension that stimulates the whole energy of the plot.

Inspired by Nietzsche's theory of ‘superior men’, Richard seeks his kicks in escapades of ever mounting destruction, seeing his contempt for society, law and morality as evidence of his supremacy. The juxtaposition of this disdain with the insistent reminders throughout the play of Richard’s legal ambition demonstrates an intriguingly contradictory character. The intelligence of the boys is highlighted as of crucial significance to the murder - nothing to do with poor Bobby Frank himself, the act is bound up with thrills of a bizarrely academic thrill in destruction of the side of Richard and sexual desire in Nathan. As in the earlier pyromaniac warehouse burning scene, sex and destruction come together in a deprave combination of mental and carnal satisfaction.

The ingenious stage set formed of an interlocking frame with recesses for the piano worked equally well at suggesting a courtroom and Loeb’s bedroom and, filled with smoke and lit solely by two beaming headlights, made a chilling murder scene. The costumes and props likewise were on point - perfectly suggestive but not excessive or distracting from the pure brilliance of the acting.

Credit must be given to Kris Rawlinson, whose beautiful piano playing and musical direction gave an atmospheric unity to the show. The somewhat repetitive score perhaps doesn’t provide the opportunities to really stretch the actors voices to their full potential, but both give sing admirably.

Moody, intelligent and gripping - this truly is a must see show. My pick of the Fringe 2017 so far!

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