"Sugaring Over The Poison Pill"
by Malcolm Eadie for remotegoat on 03/09/16

Arch poisoners William Palmer and Dr Crippen feature in a further addition to this company’s extensive stable of highly creative nineteenth century chillers.

The perennial problem for any writer dealing with historical figures who tell the audience about their lives, is the question of where to set the action. If we do not encounter the characters shortly before their death, the rest of their experiences are yet to happen, and so would be unknown to them at that time. A ghostly return is always an option, but whereas William Palmer’s tale is firmly rooted in his prison cell just prior to his execution, Dr Crippen’s account of himself here is less specific. He mentions frequently his notorious address, 39 Hilldrop Crescent, as being his location, but the scene often seems to shift and it is never quite clear whether we are witnessing the wandering mind of a deranged man who is about to be hanged, or his self-justifying, ghoulish return. Both criminals, played by the versatile Jonathan Goodwin, explain how they have been hopelessly misunderstood and deplore their respective miscarriages of justice. As if this testimony to self-delusion is not amusing enough, Amy Bullock bursts into the scene as Cora, Crippen’s wife, a talentless music hall performer screeching at the top of her voice, and the show takes on a surreal cabaret quality.

It is possible to find added symbolism in the song “With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm” (about the ghost of Anne Boleyn). The lyrics feature an account of King Henry VIII carving up a joint as well as the obvious reference to decapitation and its association with the manner in which the body of Crippen’s victim would be disposed of. Bullock sings another music hall number later. This time, as Crippen’s mistress Ethel le Neve, “The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery” is performed as a kind of love-letter from Ethel to Crippen, and Bullock injects a lot of emotion into the song. In reality, only Cora was the music hall singer, and the Anne Boleyn song, made famous by Stanley Holloway, was actually written later than when Crippen was alive. None of this pedantry matters though, in such an entertaining evening where, despite the grim subject matter, humour is never far from the surface.

Add Your review?

Have your say, add your review

Other recent reviews by Malcolm Eadie
Tea with Oscar Wilde
No tea but wit a-plenty by Malcolm Eadie
A Christmas Carol
Who Cares It’s Not Dickens? by Malcolm Eadie
Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me)
One For Theatre Hybrid Fans by Malcolm Eadie
The Masks of Aphra Behn
The Thoroughly Entertaining Mrs Behn by Malcolm Eadie
DiaoChan: The Rise of the Courtesan
Tart’s Tale Makes Disappointing Recipe by Malcolm Eadie