City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Confessional, C Too, St. Columba's by the Castle, Review

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 06 August 2016

The Confessional - the cast.  Beyond Broadway Productions.
Show details
Beyond Broadway Productions
Running time: 
Jayson Akridge (writer), Michael Hill Kirkland,(director) Peter Ferguson (lighting), Michael Hill Kirkland (design)
Michael Hill Kirkland (Detective Bill Bryce), Drew Gowland (Stanley Prentiss), CJ Hill (Detective Carter Monroe), Blair Gibson (Officer Brown)

Our fascination with crime, from true murder cases to thrilling TV series such as Law and Order, The Wire, Dexter, Closer, Prime Suspect et al, continues to enthrall and entertain. The closed world of the courtroom, police procedural and detective investigation, creates pure drama.

Premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival 2009, “The Confessional” was inspired by the movie Se7en, about the hunt by two homicide detectives for a serial killer whose crimes are instigated by the Seven Deadly Sins.

The downstairs space at C Too (Venue 4), is almost a theatre-in-the-round with the audience sitting on three sides of the stage. The setting is a small, shabby Interrogation room in Atlanta, Georgia: a table, three plastic chairs, a pile of books, papers, files, and on the back wall what appears to be a reflective two-way mirror. We are immediately drawn into a discussion about a crime scene with talk of forensic testing and blood found on the porch.

Detective Bill Bryce then greets the arrival of Stanley Prentiss, a young, good looking Social Studies teacher, who has confessed to the murder of a woman, Carla Hammond. In his white shirt, beige chinos and sneakers, he is cool and composed, only concerned that he needs to ring the school to arrange a substitute for his class.

He proceeds to relate his story: he met Carla, 5’9” with a tattoo of a maple leaf, wearing a pink coat, whom he attacks with a claw hammer. Within just a few minutes, Drew Gowland captures Stanley’s complex personality with unsettling gentleness – a blend of mannered indifference, sharp intellect and a teasing smile playing around his lips. He slouches back on his chair and talks with a slow, rhythmic Southern drawl, as he begins to describe the brutal murders of serial killer, Martin Hobbs, a case which Bryce had solved a few years earlier.

This nonchalant attitude only goads Bryce to take on the challenge of getting to the truth of what happened – or may not have happened to Carla. As yet, there is no evidence, no DNA, no body. Discussing this strange scenario with his colleague, Detective Carter Monroe, he admits with an outburst of frustration that Stanley has got “under his skin.”

With his tousled hair and craggy looks, Michael Hill Kirkland as Bryce is reminiscent of a youthful Gene Hackman; with a permanent frown and intense focused glare as he barks out his questions – he is every inch the typical homicide detective. Offering calm, feminine intuition is the tough, no-nonsense Monroe, his partner in crime, (portrayed with subtle charm by CJ Hill), with a hint of a more personal relationship - the fact that they are a real married couple adds to the frisson.

The interrogation is well paced in short, hard hitting scenes as the plot unravels through an entangled web of interweaving twists and turns. In brief blackouts, there’s a chilling blast of Psycho-style music to enhance the dark, threatening mood.

The narrative delves deeply into questions of good and evil, the human condition, religious faith with continual reference to Paradise Lost , John Milton’s poetic interpretation of the Book of Genesis on the themes of morality, sin, Satan and redemption. “…the study of revenge, immortal hate, and the courage never to submit or yield.”

The art of detection is to understand the psychological make up of serial killers – mentioning real life cases, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy – which greatly adds to the authenticity of the drama. The key is to get inside the mind of a killer, the obsession, ritual and evil of such people. In a moment of reflection, the young police Officer Brown (a confident, assured performance by Blair Gibson, recent Graduate of MGM theatre school) shows an interest to work on such profile cases.

The only slight flaw in this production is the rather convoluted guessing game of a plot; as an abridged version of the original two hour play, there is a lack of a clear exposition and the unexpected denouement comes hard and fast like a punch to the stomach.

The intimate, black box stage design creates the closed, claustrophobic atmosphere of a police interrogation room. We, the audience, are voyeurs, listening, observing. This tangible sense of physicality and emotional realism can never be achieved on the TV or cinema screen: this is gritty crime drama, up close and personal.

Performance times:
Thursday 4 August to Monday 8 August, 9.10-10.55pm
C Too @ St Columba's by the Castle, Johnston Terrace).
Tickets: £8.50/£6.50