Writers: Sasha Roberts and Tom Worsley
Director: Stephen Sobal
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Science or the supernatural, what do you believe? Are there rational explanations for all the odd things that happen in the world or should we be more like Hamlet and believe there are more things in heaven and earth? Father of Lies, performed at the Vault Festival, considers that dilemma, presenting a strange tale that begins with a miracle and ends with a murder.
Based on a true story, Father of Lies is a dramatised historical investigation into an unusual murder in 1970s Germany. It partly describes the circumstances of the crime itself including the key characters and their life in the 30 years since the Second World War, and partly establishes the various elaborate theories to explain these strange happenings, using a mixed-format of performance and presentation.
Sacha Roberts and Tom Worsley’s 45-minute show includes plenty of detailed research presented in a light-hearted and interesting style. Early-on these genial writer-performers gain the trust of the audience with a topical opening discussion about beliefs covering religion, witches, ghosts and even werewolves that quickly establishes a rapport and, being London, shows that the major of this cynical audience only believes in cold hard fact.
Once the story begins, it is told with enthusiasm by the pair who intersperse their narrative with old-fashioned projected images from books and maps using an actual slideshow carousel. For anyone over 30, this adds a touch of nostalgia to the evening, while anyone younger may be surprised to come face to face with dinosaur technology. But it suits proceedings very nicely, giving Roberts and Worsley the air of keen university lecturers. Here and there, the projector is also used as scenery, putting a pub back-drop at one point, but it could also be used to up the scare factor if it were set to flash back and forth between particularly pertinent images.
With the combination of the slightly large Cavern space at the Vaults, a little too much ‘atmospheric’ smoke which makes it difficult to see and some odd lighting decisions, the show struggles to find its tone. What is in essence an unexplained mystery, with rather spooky events doesn’t quite send shivers up your spine in the way it could, or have the hardened science fiends doubting their reliance on fact.
A little more darkness in the script and the room at key moments would add a chill, while a possible dramatic rearrangement of the material would create a touch more suspense. One way to do this would be to play out the murder at the top of the show; the audience is told there is one and that it is gruesome so seeing it wouldn’t spoil the plot but add pace and inevitability to the ensuing drama.
Then using their research, Roberts and Worsley could go back in time to examine each of the key players – Anselm, Abigail and Kirt – and link that more purposefully to the various theories about the murder. There is a plenty of diverse material in a show that covers persecution in conflict, religion, cults, horrific folk tales and disturbing visions, but the speed of the show ultimately glosses over their role in explaining the central mystery, whereas the outlandish explanations deserve as much air time as the murder-story itself.
Father of Lies has delved into history to find a strange event and brought the circumstances to life using an engaging and entertaining style. As drama, it needs a little more shaping, particularly in the sound and lighting design as well as the order in which events are unveiled, to create the necessary build-up of tension. There’s plenty of scope for this show to genuinely scare its audience, and the intriguing mix of presentation and drama that pushes the boundaries of fact and fiction gives them scope to develop a true crime franchise.
Runs until: 4 March | Image: Bete Noir Productions