Lullabies of Broadmoor
These four hour-long plays set in England’s first criminal lunatic asylum have taken playwright Steven Hennessy almost a decade to compile.
With a background working in mental health, dipping into Broadmoor’s historic archive must have proved as irresistible to him as were the strychnine-laced chocolate creams which resulted in the death of a 4 year old boy in 1871.
Christiana Edmunds, the young Brighton woman responsible, is the focus of Venus at Broadmoor (the first of the quartet, though the most recently written) and whilst never condoning her crime, Hennessy sets out the background to her ultimately fatal poisoning spree – an affair with a married doctor – with compassion.
The Demon Box constructs an imaginary meeting between patricidal painter Richard Dadd and former American Civil War surgeon William Chester Minor, whilst The Murder Club brings together the two least sympathetic characters – a jealous actor who stabbed his more successful former benefactor and a conman who killed a prostitute in this very road.
Finally and most intriguingly, Wilderness (the original play, dating from 2002) returns to the case of Chester Minor – the childhood and wartime experiences which shaped him, his repentant relationship with his victim’s widow and, unexpectedly, his substantial contribution to the Oxford English Dictionary during his years spent incarcerated in the comparative comfort of the “Gentleman’s Wing” of the hospital.
Four actors do a sterling job tackling all the roles, with Violet Ryder particularly convincing. And although the writing sometimes tends to the overblown, Hennessy makes it clear that the criminally insane can, on occasion, be victims as well as perpetrators.
Finborough, Finborough Road, SW10 9ED
0844 847 1652
Tube: Earl’s Court
Until October 1
£10 – £14 for each pair of plays
– Louise Kingsley