It was quite warm in the Art Centre last night. Very warm, in fact. I could hear my kidneys sweating. I started mumbling in tongues and I’m pretty sure I could feel my follicles melting in intimate areas. So yes; very hot. Hot as Hades. But considering the setting of Matt Fox’s new pitch-dark comedy, Fred, Ted, Jack & Harold, the ambient temperature practically transformed the experience into a form of immersive theatre.
In the play a quartet of infamous real-life serial killers – Messrs West, Bundy, ‘The Ripper’ and Shipman – are trapped in the office job from hell (literally) under the thumb of their fearsome manager “Liz” and her apparently air-headed secretary Myra. Their jobs are repetitive, pointless, humiliating and endless.
We’ve all been there, I think.
I’d been looking forward to seeing this play for a while. When I heard of the premise I was immediately intrigued. My only reservation was that maybe the set-up was too much twisted fun. The play could have potentially come across as an over-extended comedy skit.
Fortunately it didn’t. The writing and performances helped to make the quartet of killers likeable adding depth and pathos to their fate. Fred (played by Peter Hynd) is grubby, depraved and disturbing, but also the possessor of a child-like simplicity. Ted (Steve Cowley) is a downbeat but amiable chancer. Jack (Molly Campbell) is a complex and androgynous Artful Dodger. And Harold (Andy Cunningham) is careworn and pooterish jobsworth, fussing at the others.
Their (after)lives are made even more unbearable by their boss, Liz (Sarah Bostock), who humiliates and torments them all with sultry swagger. Perhaps too much swagger at times; occasionally her performance swamped her diction, but that’s a small criticism of an enjoyable portrayal. Rounding off the group is Myra (Heather Davies), Liz’s supposedly submissive secretary. In reality she’s like an Iago played in the manner of Jane Horrocks.
The script is witty, gritty and full of quotable dialogue. The first act seemed dedicated to setting up the scenario and clearly establishing the characters while the second act ascended into a deliciously Ealing-style comedy (insert joke about “The Lady Killers” here) and romps towards the denouement where everything goes deeper into Hell.
We, the audience, left the Art Centre in a sweaty fug, but we’d all been royally entertained for two hours. If you’re at a lose end this evening then you could do far worse than braving the Art Centre’s cauldron-like confines and spending the evening in the company of Fred, Ted, Jack & Harold.
You’ll be damned if you don’t.
7th July – Swindon Art Centre, Swindon.
4th August – The Cockpit Theatre, London.
12th September – Sterts Theatre & Art Centre, Liskeard, Cornwall
2nd November – Rondo Theatre, Bath.