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Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics
by Rob Johnston.
Feedback : Robert Nichols
Local History Month and Discover Middlesbrough Co-ordinators
I thoroughly enjoyed the Resolution dramatisation at Capt Cook Birthplace Museum it was exceptionally entertaining and really engaging. It shone a light on a little known rivalry and a forgotten name in history as well as also revealing a little more behind the enigmatic Cook.
I liked the way you went right through Cook's career to the end and his unraveling. The acting was superb and the play brought to light a tremendous story.
Best wishes for the future - I really hope to see your work again.
Press : CLICK HERE to read the full article.
The Teeside Evening Gazette
Feedback :Jenny Phillips- James Cook Birth place Museum Manager
Hi there Eddie and Lewis,
Well, I thought you were fab!!! Absolutely brilliant performance and I’m sure you’ll get great reviews from the people who attended. It was not what I had expected at all. The facts were accurate, and was clearly well researched and the Dalrymple angle was a great one to choose to tell the story of Cook. Not one that I’ve seen before. It worked brilliantly. I would love to work with you guys again. Please do let us know what other plans you have as events like yours have certainly proven to be really worthwhile.
THE FINAL HOURS OF TED BUNDY
by Ken Varnold.
(The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival)
Reviewer : David Cunningham
The Vaults is a compact room underneath The Kings Arms in Salford and getting there involves negotiating narrow, twisting stairs and low ceilings. Whether by expediency or intent this provides the perfect grim background for Ken Varnold’s starke.florida: the final hours of Ted Bundy- a play that explores the twisted mind of a real-life psychopath.
On the eve of his execution serial killer Ted Bundy (Eddie Capli) invites Detective Howard Stacker (John Smeathers playing a fictional composite of real-life detectives and lawyers) for a final conversation.Stacker accepts, hoping to get Bundy to finally confess to the murder of a child,but finds that the conversation is not going the way he had hoped.
Author Ken Varnold faces a number of challenges that limit the extent to which audiences can be drawn into the play. It is known that Bundy did not confess so the conclusion is pre-determined and the author cannot ‘fictionalise’ the outcome of without being accused of sensationalism. The play becomes, therefore, an examination of what might have motivated Bundy but the suggested possibilities are familiar – claims of being possessed by an entity and so forth. Even the dramatic aspects of the play – the possibility that both Stacker and Bundy share the same hatred of women but that the former was able to control his impulses while the latter could not – have been used in ,say, Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon.
Director Lewis Marsh takes a less is more approach to the production. Anything that might distract from the confrontation between the characters is removed. However, the play is essentially a conversation with only occasional action so maintaining intensity not easy.
John Smeathers pays tribute to the great fictional detectives giving Stacker an affable folksy exterior concealing a mind like a steel trap. There is a convincing display of self-disgust as Stacker finds unexpected and unwanted common ground with Bundy on his attitude towards women.
Eddie Capli is an excellent Ted Bundy- creepy, preening and needy. But really this ought not to be surprise. Throughout the play Bundy is constantly manipulating Stacker – making promises, telling lies – to secure a stay of execution. His mannerisms change from playing the courteous host to childish outbursts of anger. Bundy is, in a word, acting. So Capli is a very good actor playing an actor.
The truly memorable aspect of starke.florida: the final hours of Ted Bundy is the conclusion. The play builds to a moment – literally, it is there and gone- of absolute horror brilliantly realised by Capli and Marsh. Once seen it cannot be forgotten and is a terrifying visual summation of the points made about evil throughout the play.
The U.K. has had more than it’s fair share of serial killers - from Jack the Ripper to The Yorkshire Ripper and Harold Shipman. But, as with most things, the U.S.A. likes to do things bigger and better, and with Ted Bundy it certainly couldn’t get any nastier.
During the 1970s Bundy kidnapped, raped and murdered dozens of women. He confessed to thirty, but there are thought to have been many other victims. Eventually he was caught and his trial became one of the biggest media circuses of the eighties.
Ken Varnold’s new play ‘starke.florida: The Final Hours of Ted Bundy' (a PACT production, premiered at The King’s Arms, Salford) takes place in the hours before Bundy’s execution. It’s 5.00am in Raiford Prison, and he has requested a meeting with the detective responsible for his imprisonment. Det. Howard Stacker agrees to this because he feels his case is not yet complete. Elements surrounding the murder of Kimberley Leach don’t add up. She was much younger than the other girls Bundy murdered and he’d never confessed to the crime. Stacker hopes to learn the truth. Could this be the one killing that Bundy didn't actually commit? And does Bundy himself have his own dark, cynical agenda for the meeting. You bet he does. Then again, maybe the detective’s own motives are not quite as straight forward as they seem.
This is a complex play, partly about motivation, compassion and responsibility, and had me gripped throughout. It’s also an intense psychological drama, not without humour, about two men looking for something they think only the other can give them. Performed in the dank, bare, claustrophobia cellar of The King’s Arms, the setting of a death-wing interview room is electric.
Both performances are excellent. John Smeathers captures Stacker’s anger, frustration and desperate need to understand, with great passion and conviction. Stacker is a conflicted man, who hates the celebrity of Bundy (women write affectionate letters to him), hates the party atmosphere that has developed around his execution - but feels the death penalty is the only way to stop him murdering again.
Eddie Capli is scarily cold and calculating as the intelligent but deadly Bundy manipulating the situation for his own ends. Bundy plays games. And never gives up. But the clock on the wall ticks away the minutes and he realises there is little time left.
This is a powerful piece of theatre, directed by Lewis Marsh, looking into the darkest of souls and trying to make some sense of it. This premier performance was packed to capacity, and in this unique, not particularly comfortable performance space, I almost felt I could be sitting in on the execution myself. Highly recommended.
LIFE'S A GATECRASH
by Terry Hughes.
Reviewer : David Cunningham ★★★★★
Life's a Gatecrash, Terry Hughes' disturbing study of masculine insecurity, hypocrisy and the politics of intimidation becomes a visceral and wholly compelling part of the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival.
Steve (Eddie Capli) and Nicola (Josie Walsh) frantically discuss their options after committing a hit and run that left a man likely dead in the road. Steve's efforts to rationalise his actions and brutalise Nicola into acquiescence are interrupted by the unexpected appearance of the savage Phil (Paddy Byrne) who brings irrefutable and surprising evidence of the accident.
Life's a Gatecrash is unusual in depicting violence in a way that is neither sensational nor overbearing. Too often, in an effort to condemn aggression, writers go over the top and bludgeon the audience with shocking scenes that generate numb inertia. Hughes appreciates that a hand squeezing a throat can more upsetting than prolonged fight scenes. Strangely, for a play full of truly nasty brutality, there is a feeling of control – directing the action for maximum impact.
Director Andy Pope delivers a production that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and just won't let go. The opening sequence is a perfect replication of the jittery adrenaline filled aftermath of an accident with Capli and Walsh pacing the stage snarling at each other like caged beasts. The commitment of the cast is apparent in stunts that send them crashing to the floor with an impact that must surely bruise.
The cast ARE excellent in their portrayal of Hughes' deeply disturbed and distasteful characters. Capli fearlessly avoids giving Steve any redeeming qualities. He offers a nasty, petty bully that you just long to see get his comeuppance. By contrast Paddy Byrne portrays Phil as a primeval creature whose violence is almost pure in its simple sense of retribution. In less skilled hands Phil could become an exaggerated caricature and it is impressive that Byrne keeps him frightening rather than funny. Walsh is a very moving reminder of the effects of casual violence with a fixed nervous smile and tight flinching movements as if always braced to shield against a blow. The sinister edge that Lewis Marsh brings to the twitchy and creepy Sid is enough to convince that the character was probably damaged even before the trauma he suffered.
Showing violence on stage is never easy but this new version of Life's a Gatecrash gets the balance harrowingly right.