Writer: Ben Tagoe
Director: Rod Dixon
Designer: Signe Beckmann
Reviewer: Katie Lee
‘Real men are in control of their destiny’, or real psychopaths as this new play by Red Ladder Theatre Company explores. The Thing About Psychopaths is an examination of how the human instinct to survive is changing in an increasingly capitalist society. The local company, Red Ladder, is championed for their emphasis on new writing that challenges and agitates its audience into action. Far from their last song-filled performance in this venue, Promised Land, this is a straight, one act play with a four-person cast.
On entrance to the theatre, the set designed by Signe Beckmann is clearly visible. Silvery walls with clean lines denote an office, complete with luxurious leather effect chairs. This is a standard cubicle with zero personality, the perfect setting to implement this story of greed and lack of empathy. The cast add to the setting of the scene while the house lights are still up, easing the transition into performance of the close quarters of a frantic office. This choreography to rhythmic reverberating music simulates the intense nature of office life in the financial sector. The house is very busy, with Red Ladder’s loyal audience filling the theatre seats.
Shaun Cowlishaw, as the protagonist Noel, is delineated from the others at the beginning as moving more slowly and considered. He describes himself as a ‘geeky little IT nerd’ who ‘just likes working with computers’. Unfortunately Babajide Fado as Ray has different plans for him, ‘nothing illegal, just beating the big boys at their own game.’ So commences Noel’s downfall, and as his life breaks down the set does too, adapting the office into a prison cell.
There is a distinct comedic element to the telling of the story, mainly implemented by William Fox. His character Michael, Noel’s cellmate, details his criminal beginnings through a story about unobtainable, top shelf ginger nuts that plagued him as a boy. The laughter breaks the tension, allowing the story to become more accessible to the audience. The primary antagonist of the prison warden, played by Kyla Goodey, exemplifies the human behind a responsibility-filled job. These people are heavily affected by such events as suicides on their watch, which inevitably changes the way they do their job.
Lighting designer Tim Skelly has used a simple palette to enhance the more stylised scenes of the play. Character-developing overlapping duologues are side lit to give sharp facial shadows that denote the dark parts of humanity we try to restrain. This play delves into the actions we take when we appear to have no other choice, personifying the idea that showing empathy can only leave you exposed to attack.