Review: Gruesome fantasies

25 March 2016

by Eoin Buckley

Have you ever been told a story that has a really good moral and intention behind it, but the way the story was told to you just didn't hook you in the slightest? The kind of story that opens up very interesting questions and conversations, but only once you've slogged through the stodge to get there. That's how I felt after watching Dahmer.

Jeffrey Dahmer was an American serial killer and sex offender who was sentenced to more than 900 years imprisonment for crimes including rape, murder, necrophilia and cannibalism. As a man who seemed to understand everything he was doing and the moral repercussions involved, the question then poses itself – was Dahmer sane, or insane?

As an original concept for a story, I like what Heads Up Production were asking in Dahmer. As a few audience members gathered in the pub after the show, it was definitely a topic worthy of discussion. Sadly, however, the play acted as a somewhat faulty springboard from which to dive into this pool. The 35-minute play seemed to be over just as some of the deeper questions surrounding the case arose. This play has a great idea at it's core, it just needs to use it more!

Special mention does have to go to Gary White for his performance of Jeffrey Dahmer. Playing a character with as much depth and confusion as the serial killer is a definite make-or-break for the play. White's performance drew the audience in, staring out at us and drawing us into his twisted world. Ashleigh Egan also performed well as Pam, Dahmer's neighbour. I just wish we had more time with her.

One question I would have for the directors Amie Petricca-Lear and Thomas Newall would be that of accents. Throughout the play the audience are already asked to suspend their disbelief – we are shown multiple images and videos featuring the real Jeffrey Dahmer, who clearly isn't the actor in front of us. That's fine, it's part of theatre. This isn't a re-anactment, this is a performance. Hannah Woodfine's portrayal of Dietz also has an English accent, which again works absolutely fine, the audience can still go along with that. Why, then, did they feel the need for the other three actors to put on unnecessary American accents? Sadly the voices did seem to throw some of the actors at points where it really needn't have. This definitely threw my engagement with Dahmer.

Something else I feel the need to mention is a quick disclaimer. This play included several truly graphic images of Dahmer's victims. These definitely drew you into the world, and make sense to be in the piece given how open Dahmer was to the police when discussing his crimes. He was more than happy to share his gruesome fantasies with the world, whether they wanted it or not. However, there was no disclaimer before the play warning us of these violent images, something several of my colleagues would have definitely appreciated. Just as you should warn the audience of onstage smoking or flashing lights, there really should have been a warning that graphic images were to be shown. Again, this is easily fixable and not entirely the fault of the cast and crew, but definitely needs to be mentioned.

All in all this play brought up some very interesting questions that could be discussed at great length. When someone is as twisted as this, should that change our view on their sanity? Sadly, however, Dahmer failed to reach into this topic in enough depth. If the piece received some workshopping and reworking it could become a very intriguing piece of theatre, it's just not there yet. Keep it up!

Photo credit: Giulia Delprato