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Theatre review: Lullabies of Broadmoor - Venus at Broadmoor/The Demon Box 
6th-Sep-2011 11:01 pm
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Unexpected theatre trends of the year: Quartets of short plays, presented in pairs of double bills. Unlike tha National's Double Feature though, the Finborough's Lullabies of Broadmoor share a writer (Steve Hennessy) and a theme: Victorian-era murderers in Broadmoor, the institution for the criminally insane. The hour-long plays, directed by Chris Loveless, are linked by John Coleman (Chris Donnelly,) the alcoholic Principal Attendant of the Gentleman's Block, where the wealthier killers could live in slightly more comfortable conditions. The remaining three actors play a variety of roles over the four plays.

Venus at Broadmoor centres on poisoner Christiana Edmunds (Violet Ryder) and the way her overt sexuality affects both Coleman and Dr Orange (Chris Bianchi,) who is attempting to make her accept that she has done something wrong. The Demon Box's central patient is the painter Richard Dadd (Bianchi) who killed his father on the orders of Egyptian god Osiris, and, decades into his treatment, spends much of his time conversing with Ariel from The Tempest (Ryder.) Dadd is approached by a new inmate, William Chester Minor (Chris¹ Courtenay,) who Coleman hopes can help the older man start to reveal his secrets. The plays are presented in the reverse order they were written in, so Venus at Broadmoor is the newest, while the play that ends the quartet has been knocking around since 2002. In this first pairing the idea is of a penny dreadful come to life, but gradually expanded into more of a psychological exploration. There's some funny moments and the cast are good, with Bianchi particularly good in the second play.

It's an interesting time period for this sort of story - around when people were starting to, if not quite understand psychology, at least explore the idea that the criminally insane could be treated and perhaps cured. With these particular characters though, Orange and Coleman are fighting a losing battle to get them to understand their resposibility for what they've done. The Demon Box features some great scenes where Egyptian mythology is woven into Dadd's own personal psychosis, and hints interestingly at a matrioshka-doll structure for the quartet, but I did feel it could have done with more to distinguish it in tone and story from the first play. It's not an amazing show and feels somehow low-key by the Finborough's standards but I'm interested enough to return next week and see if the concluding double bill can weave the quartet into a cohesive whole.

Lullabies of Broadmoor - Venus at Broadmoor/The Demon Box by Steve Hennessy is in repertory until the 1st of October at the Finborough theatre.

¹well, rehearsals won't have been a nightmare then - "Chris, can you tell Chris that Chris needs him? No, not you Chris, Chris!" ETC.
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