Edinburgh Fringe 2009
The Bone House
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
An informal lecture by self-styled ‘mind-hunter’ Eugene Crowley examines our fascination with serial killers – and asks why are we more interested in the killers than the victims? And what is our own relationship to the victims?
In the chill stone caverns of the Underbelly self-styled ‘mind-hunter’ Eugene Crowley delivers his informal lecture on the habits of serial killers. An unnerving, evangelical figure, he is fanatically enthused by the trail of what he believes to be the work – nay, the artistry – of a killer he has dubbed the ‘Midnight Cowboy’. Asking the audience which of the names he recites they recognise, it soon becomes clear that the celebrity of serial killers is not the province of the macabre few, but a fascination shared by us all. We all know the killers, Peter Sutcliffe, Fred West, Harold Shipman – none of us recognise the names of the victims.
Why this might be is the question that underlies the show. Crowley posits that we seek to know all we can about the murderers because we feel that if we know them we can stop ourselves from becoming their next victim. It’s an interesting theory, one that frets at the back of the mind as the audience sits there, knowing from the buzz the show has generated that something must happen – but what, and to whom? And more importantly, by whom? The hallmark of the ‘Midnight Cowboy’ is that he kills in pairs – and the one who watches their friend’s death must pay for witnessing. The relationship between victim and audience becomes increasingly tense, the fear in the room mounting as psychological tricks are deployed to unsettle and disconcert.
Tracey Power delivers a stomach-churning performance as a surviving witness of a double murder, but it is Chris Fassbinder as the potentially psychotic fanatic with a backwoods drawl who really carries the show. The stereotyping carries a chilling message – can you ever really know who is the potential killer in the room? As the lights go out the screams and snuffling sounds of terrified tears fill the room. This is genuine fear – yet not one person chose to leave, despite having being given the opportunity to do so three times in the full knowledge that something was going to happen. Our thrill-seeking and fascination with the dark recesses of fear, terror and pain lead to uncomfortable questions about our own culpability.
This isn’t doing anything entirely new – it is, after all, some years since the Blair Witch Project – but it is genuinely chilling, not least for the questions that remain after the self-indulgent terror has passed. Go – but don’t go alone.