JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE THING ABOUT PSYCHOPATHS at the Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, for The Scotsman 1.5.13.
3 stars ***
IN A WORLD OF PSYCHOPATHS, the normal bloke is destined to be bullied and brutalised until something in him breaks. That’s the thought behind this new play by Perth-born writer Ben Tagoe, currently on tour around the UK in a sharp, swift 70-minute production by the radical London-based company Red Ladder.
So at first, the play’s hero Noel finds himself tangling with psychopaths because of his decision to work in the finance industry, at the height of the pre-crash boom. His immediate boss Ray instructs him to conduct a series of fradulent deals, and then throws him to the wolves, denying all knowledge of the crime; all this, while regaling Noel constantly with his psychotic theory of human nature, in which all men are savages, killing or being killed, and women exist only to be abused and mocked. Then, in prison for Ray’s crimes, Noel finds himself brutalised to within an inch of his life again, this time by his psychopathic cellmate, Michael.
The problem with Tagoe’s play is that it lacks a real dramatic shape; Noel is bullied at the beginning, bullied in the middle, and bullied at the end, and his final decision to turn nasty himself is so abrupt and brief it hardly makes sense. Yet Rod Dixon’s production is a stylish and inventive affair, with impressive lighting and design, a powerful soundscape, bold use of movement, and a fine streak of poetry. And it features four strong, fearless performances from Shaun Cowlishaw (as Noel), William Fox, Babajide Fado and Kyla Goodey; in a short 70 minutes of theatre that offers not so much a play, as a brief, single-minded nightmare vision of a society run by psychopaths at the top and psychopaths at the bottom, with the ordinary man or woman in the middle increasingly forced to mimic their dysfunctional behaviour, or be crushed in their path.