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A CurtainUp London London Review
Thrill Me

"There's nothing like a warm, romantic fire/
To put me in the proper frame of mind/
There's nothing like a roaring, raging fire/
To help me unwind"

— Richard Loeb in "Nothing Like a Fire"
Thrill Me
Ben Woods as Richard Loeb and Jo Parsons as Nathan Leopold (Photo: Nick Rutter)
What I find most intriguing about reviewing theatre is the unexpected directions these dramas take you to and the fascinating connections. Way back when one of the first plays I reviewed was at Battersea Arts Centre, starting on their wonderful staircase outside the theatre, a production of Inherit the Wind. I saw this play later with the great Kevin Spacey playing the attorney. Just a few weeks ago, I reviewed Kevin Spacey as Clarence Darrow, the real life lawyer who defended the teacher in the Scopes Monkey trial.

So I come to this show about the two young men, who having exhausted the thrills of burglary and fire raising, turn to the murder of a child. It was Clarence Darrow who defended these two unpopular men, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, and spared them the death penalty. Their story formed the basis for Patrick Hamilton's 1929 stage play, and Hitchcock's later film, Rope.

Stephen Dolginoff has created a piece full of sexual tension as we examine Leopold's attraction to Loeb, the reason for his discarding his moral code. The play opens with Nathan Leopold's fifth application for parole in Chicago in 1958 and with flashbacks to the events of 1924 when they were 19 year olds. We are told that Richard Loeb was a follower of the German philosopher Nietzsche and that Loeb thought hubristically that he was so intelligent, a superman, that they would never be caught.

There is a piano playing for the songs but also through the spoken scenes, a really pretty accompaniment. The songs are accessible and the lyrics often witty. The music may be heavenly when terrible, evil actions are being discussed or described. I liked the way recorded voices are used to make the stage seem much more peopled that just the two actors. Even at Greenwich, a traditional proscenium arched theatre, and not a smaller studio space, the show filled the stage. There are lighting shifts to match the mood.

The performances are vivid: tall, thin, controlling Loeb with his boater and bow tie and taunting Nietzsche type arrogance. Nathan Leopold is more affable but also rather pathetic as, like a puppy, he pursues Loeb. Both actors sing well and you can hear every word of the lyrics. There is a good switch towards the end which I will not spoil for you.

Thrill Me fulfills two musical book elements I have come to appreciate; its tale of real life people and the darkness of its theme. I found myself thinking about Parade and even Assassins.

This show haunts and excites in equal measure and, under Guy Retallack's faultless direction, is one of the most accomplished I have seen as we examine what it is that made two rich kids risk everything by perpetrating an act of pure evil. Don't miss it!

For Elyse Sommer's review of this production in 2005 in New York and the complete song list go here.

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Thrill Me
Book, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Dolginoff
Directed by Guy Retallack

Starring: Ben Woods and Jo Parsons
Musical Director: Tom Turner
Designer: James Turner
Lighting: Richard Williamson
Original sound: Anjali Kale
Sound Design: Peter Russell
Choreographer: Paul Harris
Running time: One hour 20 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 8858 7755
Showing at Greenwich to 18th April 2015 and then on tour to 6th June 2015
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th April 2015 performance at the Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill, London SE10 8ES (Rail/ DLR: Greenwich/Cutty Sark)
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