Open Theatre’s Normal: An Alarming True Story of Horror Brought to Life

Anthony Neilson’s haunting tale of Peter Kurten, a prolific serial killer who terrorised the people of Dusseldorf in the 1930s, has been brought to life extraordinarily by Open Theatre’s production. Eve Walton’s direction tells the story of the killer’s life through his lawyer, Justus Wehner, and his bizarre interactions with Kurten and his wife.

Eve Walton’s direction of a script so populated by disturbing anecdotes and accounts of real-life murder and violence shows great talent in bringing such a story to life, and delivery of the play is achieved excellently as the audience is scarcely given a moment of respite from the dark world of Kurten.

The language of the play is gratuitous and detailed, and the cast eloquently carries this off with aplomb, at times veering into poetic and song-like recital with great effect. Thomas Davy and Salim Kalache’s portrayals of Justus Wehner and Peter Kurten respectively are thrilling, and the shifting power dynamic between them becomes an entrancing focal point of the production. Daisy Kakkar’s performance of Frau Kurten is incredibly emotive and draws sympathy from the audience as she is entangled in the hideous world of her husband, while remaining a captivating performer to observe throughout as her motivations and values are questioned. Idiosyncratic performances from the three-person cast show an uncomfortably human side to the thoroughly un-human characters in the play; at times the audience laughed at some of the most distressing parts of the story, not out of humour but the sheer absurdity of the drama and the cast’s bewitching portrayal. The remarkable handling of a disturbing and shocking subject matter proves the actors’ ability to convey a humanising side to the characters involved, and Thomas Davy’s monologuing throughout provides a constant commentary and reflection that draws the audience further into the complex and horrific story; and Salim Kalache’s portrayal of Kurten is truly gripping.

Ell Johnson’s set design, cardboard-cutouts of scissors suspended from the ceiling and eerie screen projections, enthrall the audience as they are seated either side of the stage. The choice of audience arrangement brings viewers close to the cast, enabling a jarring level of intimacy. A minimalist use of props and scenery allows for a truly focused production centred around the actor’s movements, choreographed by Aimee Cross, that leaves the audience entranced.

The sound, lighting, and overall tech production of the show were well executed, the audiovisual elements blend well with the onstage action. Fran Partlett’s lighting lends a dream-like quality to the story, with pieces of original video played to enhance the story-telling of Davy’s character. The team of Producer, Assistant Director and Assistant Producers Joe Jones, Eden Vaughan and Bethan Corner should be commended for putting together such a fluid and seamless production. Normal is a remarkable story, though not for the fainthearted, and Open Theatre has done a fantastic job of telling it, with spine-tingling effect.