Book, Music and Lyrics: Stephen Dolginoff
Director: Matthew Parker
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Thrill Me certainly is thrilling. Based on the real-life case of Leopold and Loeb, the two lovers who killed a boy to prove that they were Nietzschean Supermen, this musical, despite its subject matter, is steamy and sexy.
The 1924 murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks has inspired many writers, the first being Patrick Hamilton who wrote the play Rope in 1929, and which Hitchcock later turned into a film, although the victim here is no longer a child. Another film, Compulsion, was made in 1959, and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games of 1997 and its 2008 American remake are clearly influenced by the Leopold and Leob case.
In Thrill Me, written by Stephen Dolginoff in 2003, Leopold and Loeb are referred to by their first names, Nathan and Richard. We meet them in 1924 when, after being childhood friends, they reconnect while studying at the University of Chicago. It is here where Richard Loeb discovers Nietzsche and the idea of the Übermensch, a man who stands above others in society. He convinces Nathan to join him on a crime spree of arson and burglary, believing that they are superior to the law. Undoubtedly, Nathan gets a rush from committing these larcenies, but in Thrill Mehis reward is to have sex with Richard.
The number Nothing Like A Fire examines the sexual relationship between the two men, and as they watch a warehouse burn, they demonstrate that their love is just as incendiary. As Nathan, Bart Lambert is twitchy and needy, desperate for the caresses of his partner-in-crime. Jack Reitman plays Richard, confident and cocky, as an intellectual jock, who needs Nathan, not for sex, but as a witness to his superiority, and as a check to his more outlandish propositions. ‘I screw up without you’, Richard tells Nathan.
The fifty seater Hope Theatre is tiny, but Lambert and Reitman use every corner of it, their bodies writhing inches away from the audience. They are very convincing as their best plans crumble, and we can measure the rising tension in their already fraught relationship. Rachel Ryan’s set design transforms the theatre into a giant crime board, red thread connecting newspaper reports and photographs fixed to the walls. The trunks that the two actors push around the stage are full of surprises and Chris McDonnell’s lights, while never quite dark enough, are creative.
The two actors are joined on stage by Tim Shaw, who plays the keyboard, the only accompaniment to the men’s voices. Without more instruments, and as the songs are all of a certain rhythm, some numbers do begin to sound the same, but both My Glasses/Just Lay Low and Life Plus Ninety-Nine Years stand out from the others.
Matthew Parker directs tightly, and as songs quickly turn into scenes there is no time for any applause. This is a good decision as it heightens the drama playing out on stage. Thrill Meis an in-house production and further cements The Hope Theatre’s reputation as one of the smartest fringe venues in London.
Runs until 20 April 2019 | Image: lhphotoshots