Sensuous Manifold presents Anthony Nielson’s ‘Normal’ at the Camden People’s Theatre Review *****
“An exploration of the relationship between reality and fiction.
Intense. Brutal. Humorous.”
Neilson’s production opens the case of the Dusseldorf Ripper, Peter Kurten, and the relationship between himself and defence lawyer, Justus Wehner. Revealing details and gruesome events from Kurten’s past is only part of the tale. Neilson’s presents glimpses of Kurten’s marriage to a former prostitute and murderer.
We are forced to question the play ominous title…’Normal’?
Gareth Somers played mass murderer Peter Kurten in a beautifully menacing way. You can somehow empathize with his character at particular points throughout the play , as details from his past are pulled apart and scrutinised. Do these instances perhaps have an ill-effect on the way he behaved throughout his life, creating the disturbingly unremorseful Dusseldorf Ripper?
Although Peter Kurten was a mass murderer, he also managed to have a seemingly ‘normal’ lifestyle, in the form of his marriage to an ex-prostitute, played by Catherine Somers. She interweaved herself seamlessly throughout the play, providing a vast contrast to her husband Peter Kurten.
Elliott Brennan played defence lawyer Justus Wehner, providing an overall narration and balance the menacing Kurten couple. However, we are yet to wonder if he is indeed ‘Normal’ towards the end of the production.
All in all, the actors worked exceedingly well with one another, all playing their parts well without overshadowing each other.
Lack of props
The design elements within ‘Normal’ were also interesting, not lavish or outlandish at all. At most they could be described as simple, but they were very effective. The use of several wooden crates conveyed the bareness of the prison and perhaps reflected the personality of Peter Kurten. Accordingly, they were also used to create different levels to echo hierarchy among the characters. Although the actors physically changed the set throughout the play, it created meaning instead of getting in the way. It perhaps goes to show that tons of stylistic elements and props do not need to be in place in order to deem a play a success. It was more about stripping things back to basics and relying on the projection of the actors and the audience’s imaginations.
The lighting created an eerie, moody atmosphere. Perhaps a reflection of the German Expressionist era? It was much how you would imagine a prison cell to be in Dusseldorf in the early 20th century. There was one particular scene within the play in which there was a supposed power cut within the prison. This was executed beautifully, with the actors using their voices to a great extent. If this were to be done in a larger scale theatre, it may not work as well, due to the intimacy of the scene.
Overall, ‘Normal’ is exactly how it is described. Intense. Brutal. Humorous. It is not for those with a light sense of humour, as the descriptions of the gruesome murders are difficult to stomach. It was exceptionally casted with the actors playing flawed individuals battling their pasts. Thoroughly entertaining and with no interval, the play had you hooked from beginning to end, prompting you to think about specific aspects of human nature.