Normal ***


Edinburgh University Theatre Company at the Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh
Tuesday 18th November – Saturday 22nd November 2008

Anthony Neilson’s play Normal is in no way easy, as it explicitly deals with extremely uncomfortable issues and asks many moral questions. In the 1930s, young lawyer Justus Wehner is chosen to defend serial killer, Peter Kurten, on a plea of insanity in a major German trail. The action then develops to show the psychological battle between the two and Justus attempts to try to understand Peter’s behaviour – theft, torture, rape, incest and murder. Overall, director James Bruce Sinclair is extremely ambitious to take on this piece of theatre and should be admired for his risk.

The cast of three, Nick Kay, Paddy Loughman and Holly McLay, deliver surprisingly mature and developed performances throughout the play. In particular, Nick Kay manages the hard task of engaging the audience when speaking monologues and expanding his character through the intense moral questions he debates. Yet, all three actors would benefit from a little more confidence in their performances and their presence on stage.

Technically, the play could have been a little stronger. Music and sounds cues often distracted from the action and seemed unnecessary. Similarly, on occasion the characters came into the audience area for no obvious reason and broke the mood created in the performance space. Director Sinclair stated, in the program, that he wanted “to provide the audience with an all-round experience that reaches into the auditorium.” Although this is a very interesting aim, it did not fully work in the space; perhaps it would have been more effective in theatre in the round or with a thrust stage. Likewise, the intensity of the action was interrupted with the exits and entrances of the characters. The subject matter calls for intensity, as it questions what is the norm and what is insanity – clearly still relevant in our society today.

The play began its life in the Edinburgh Fringe over seventeen years ago and has been categorized into the nineties movement of ‘in-yer-face’ theatre. Recent Edinburgh Fringe movements have seen a trend towards new musicals and escapism theatre, away from work like Normal. This may be evident of the depressing economic times we belong to now, compared to the boom of the nineties. Hence, it is not surprising that this production did not draw a lot of audience, yet very disappointing as they missed a very enthralling piece of theatre.



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