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Theatre review: Lullabies of Broadmoor - The Murder Club/Wilderness 
14th-Sep-2011 10:47 pm
Back to the Finborough for the concluding half of Steve Hennessy's Lullabies of Broadmoor Quartet. As with the first double bill, Chris Donnelly's warder John Coleman links the plays although for The Murder Club he hands over narrator duties to Olive Young (Violet Ryder,) the ghost of a murdered prostitute. Chris Courteney plays Richard Prince, the actor who murdered stage star William Terriss (a story I'd heard of before, as legend has it Terriss haunts Covent Garden Tube station.) A couple of decades later, Prince is still in Broadmoor when Ronald True (Chris Bianchi) arrives in Broadmoor for the murder of Olive. An incredibly successful con-man in the past, True continues to mess with people's heads once inside, first manipulating Prince with claims of a "murder club" that can get him special privileges, before turning his attentions to Coleman. Of the quartet this one has the most attempt at contemporary relevance, Churchill's bombing of Iraq in the 1920s mirroring the later war that was starting when Hennessy wrote this part of the sequence. This one is Ryder's chance to really stand out, and I don't know why Elgar always makes for a good punchline, but he does.

Last in the sequence but the first to be written, Wilderness is also the strongest of the four, focusing on the fascinating William Chester Minor (Courteney.) Born in Ceylon, a multi-lingual doctor and veteran of the US Civil War, one day he walked out of his house and killed complete stranger George Merrett (Bianchi, another ghost returning to haunt his killer.) Once in Broadmoor he put his skills as a lexicographer to use and became a major contributor to the OED, and was regularly visited by his victim's widow (Ryder.) The overall themes of responsibility are best explored here in what is both the wittiest and the darkest of the plays. It was Wilderness, first seen in 2002, that led Hennessy to expand its premise into this larger play sequence but it does seem to have been subject to the law of diminishing returns, and the four plays not only tread similar ground but follow similar emotional arcs. After seeing the first double bill I wondered if, in expanding his Broadmoor stories, Hennessy might not have been better off turning it into one three-hour epic rather than four seperate hours circling around the same themes; though the second double bill is stronger, I still think that might have made for a more satisfying experience.

Lullabies of Broadmoor - The Murder Club/Wilderness by Steve Hennessy is in repertory until the 1st of October at the Finborough theatre.
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