Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Adapting a complex non-fiction book to the stage is not easy; inevitably much of the detail will be lost and the best one can hope to achieve is a show that summarises the source material or gives an indication of the themes. Journalist Jon Ronson takes the latter approach in Jon Ronson’s Psychopath Afternoon; explaining how he came to write the book The Psychopath Test.
One of the themes of the book is the ease with which psychopaths, who lack the capacity to feel remorse or guilt, can deceive other people. Ronson introduces Mary Turner Thomson whose story inspired him to investigate the subject when she discovered her husband was a committed bigamist who remorselessly exploited his wives by impregnating and stealing from them. Turner Thomson explains how she was deceived by her ex-husband into believing that his many absences were due to him working for the CIA and the extremes to which he went to make the story credible including physically scarring his feet. She is an excellent guest with a down to earth manner explaining that she felt it best to tell her children that their father was a liar as the plot of any soap opera dictated they were bound to accidentally meet one of their half-siblings.
One of the disturbing aspects of the show is the difficulty in curing or treating those suffering from mental illness. Turner Thomson’s husband continues to commit bigamy while another guest, Eleanor Longden, explains that, even after treatment, she still hears voices in her head narrating her daily activities in the third person but has learnt how to cope with the condition. Not before, however, she considered it would be rational to release the voices by drilling a hole in her head with a Black and Decker.
Jon Ronson widens the topic from individual to corporate and political psychopathy and reports how his interviews with subjects indicated they believed the traits associated with the condition were an advantage in their business. Psychopaths are perceived as predators and Ronson uses slides to illustrate how many powerful figures, including Donald Trump, feel comfortable using decorations featuring lions.
The format for Jon Ronson’s Psychopath Afternoon limits the extent to which an overall cohesive theme can be developed. Ronson, acting as host and narrator jumps around and sometimes goes off the subject. This is particularly the case in the second half of the show which is largely a question and answers session and, like all such events, becomes bogged down in the particular interest of the person asking the question or their effort to upstage Ronson.
The Q&A is preceded by Ronson reading a recent piece on how he and an internet reporter who specialises in conspiracies infiltrated Bohemian Grove, where rich right-wingers such as George W, Bush are rumoured to stage mock human sacrifices. It is very entertaining but has little to do with the theme of the show making its inclusion something of a puzzle.
Appropriately for show concerning a type of mental illness Jon Ronson’s Psychopath Afternoon seems to be having an identity crisis. To avoid becoming a dry lecture it is heavily dependent upon filmed inserts to allow interviews to be broadcast and background information to be communicated. However, instead of maintaining a theatrical aspect, this makes the show feel like a television documentary presented in a ‘live’ format. It is an intelligent and entertaining event that it gains little from being staged in a theatre rather than broadcast on television.
Reviewed on 20 October 2018 | Image: