Review by: Brian Morton
NORMAL is a three person script by Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson is one of the best written plays I have seen at the Hamilton Fringe this year. It is articulate, richly detailed and highly thoughtful text with a severely dark point of view telling the story of 1920s German Serial killer Peter Kurten. The script premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1991 and is getting a richly deserved Canadian revival here.
As a blunt look into the amoral mind of a psycho-path, NORMAL asks some disturbing questions about evil and human nature. The real life Peter Kurten was a sexual sadist who took a great deal of pleasure in making the helpless suffer agony before stealing their lives with a knife.. Children and young women were his preferred victims. There were at least nine known victims – but perhaps many more perished.
Known as the “Dusseldorf Vampire”, Kurten was ultimately executed by the guillotine on July 2, 1931 . The 1931 Fritz Lang film “M” is an earlier take on the same source material. The film introduced the English language world to the work of actor Peter Lorre who played the killer – Lorre later became a staple Hollywood character actor in films like CASABLANCA.
Music from THREEPENNY OPERA sung in its original German takes us back to the time period – while motionless a single actor stands staring at the audience – thus are we introduced to the sadist Kurten played with relish by Justin Goodhand. From an opening monologue to a scene between Kurten and his young lawyer Dr. Justus Wehner (here played by Edward Charette) – who wants Kurten to plead insanity as his only defense.
With only a table and two chairs, the world of Wiemar Republic Germany is conjured up in front of us. The sure hand of director Jakob Ehman keeps us focused on these seemingly ordinary monsters, coming up with endless triangles in staging thee chilling events.
“They will execute you for this” says the young lawyer – “Yes, because I am what they fear” replies Kurten…
Kurten killed at least nine people and started 45 fires – he was sexually aroused by the sight of blood. He tells us of learning to kill small dogs when he was still a child by a favorite uncle.
We meet Frau Kurten (Shanda Belzic) – a former prostitute that Kurten dominated into marrying him in 1924. She is stunned but seems oddly unsurprised by the revelation that he is killing people. She seems to think him capable of just about anything.
Peter instructs his lawyer in his own defense and in doing so brings him into the mindset of a serial killer – describing and encouraging depraved sexual acts – ultimately the lawyer is driven to murdering Kurten’s wife with a giant rubber hammer. (Or did he? Was it all just in his mind the audience is left to wonder).
“It is all false morality – I was never an innocent”…
Sentenced to death by guillotine – Kurten hopes that he will survive decapitation long enough to hear his own blood splattering onto the floor.
HUMANZOO is new production company founded by a group of recent George Brown Theatre School grads – NORMAL is their first production. The sound design by the director is of particular note, subtly reinforcing the onstage action and giving us a tangible sense of time and place. I was very impressed by the careful detail in bringing this production to life.
NORMAL is a very dark exploration of a truly depraved individual – unlike contemporary fictional killers such as DEXTER or Hannibal Lector, this story gains its power by the very fact that it is true – by the tangible fact that monsters like this are really living amongst us.
Check out this lovely production for the excellent and nuanced performances and a very unusual look at the dark side of the human psyche.