Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Investigative performer shows how to fall in love with a convicted murderer on death row.
“No woman has ever got a love letter until they’ve got one from a man in prison” says Stephanie Ridings. She should know. She’s fallen for a man on death row, Huntsville, Texas. Trailer parks, gun shops, roadkill – you get the picture. There’s a desperately sad scene where she meets him for the first time. She has twenty dollars in coins for the vending machine… but then there he is, standing there behind the bullet proof glass. She doesn’t know where to look. It brings tears to the eyes. We understand at that moment how this happens. This is a show about unconditional love.
Stephanie has love problems of her own. Her partner, Stompy, stomps around the house back in Kenilworth and is less than supportive about Stephanie’s investigative journalism. “I’m good at detective research” she says, “Some call it stalking.” He’s worried that she’s becoming ‘obsessed’ again. Get over it Stompy, you’ve chosen to live with an artist, it’s what they do, comes with the territory. Likewise, Stephanie’s mother would prefer her “to do a comedy with less research.” Really? They’re ten-a-penny. This show is unique, exceptional; wake up Mom, and Stompy come to that, Stephanie’s talent needs all the support it can get. High maintenance though, literally, all this transatlantic fieldwork is expensive… “that’s why they give us credit cards” she quips.
I can’t quite think of anyone quite like Ridings. She goes deep. Far deeper than Louis Theroux or Jon Ronson. She loses the objective distance – there’s a constant emotional frisson, a desperately sad one. The research is meticulous and the stagecraft finely tuned, disarming, dripping with chilling lines. Dripping like blood. Jonny, the gun wielding ‘bad boy’ murderer who she falls for, has been waiting to be executed for 15 years. Eventually they will ring a bell for each of those years as he is put down like a dog. Though that’s not quite true -dogs are put down with far more dignity. Like Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, this piece leaves you in no uncertain terms about case against ‘state sponsored homicide’. It diminishes us all. I was left asking: Why let the murderers commit two crimes? The first against their victims and the second against our civic humanity?
Well done Stephanie Ridings. We love you.