Ladykiller at the Vault Festival review ****

Ladykiller, The Thelmas

Vault Festival, 3rd March 2019

Blimey. The Thelmas, director and founder Madelaine Moore and writer Guleraana Mir, together with the writer here, Madeline Gould, aren’t pulling any punches here. The company is “dedicated to the development and promotion of early career female writers and theatre makers”. They “crave authentic and bittersweet stories outside of the traditional female stereotype and socially impactful narratives that reflect society but don’t look to solve prevalent issues”. They have certainly met the brief here.

Lights (from Jennifer Rose) up. Her, played by Hannah McClean, is a hotel chambermaid. Drenched in blood with a body (artfully made by Baska Wesolowska) at her feet. She appears to have killed a guest. In fact she has killed a guest. But, as she says, “it’s not what it looks like”. Over the next hour she takes us through her motives, means and opportunity. Initially because she is pissed off at having to clean up after someone who has shat the bed leaving no explanation or apology. She hold backs though and waits to plan the perfect murder. Because she can and because she enjoys it. And because she is overlooked and looked down on. That’s the premise. A woman with no reason to kill. She walks us through the history and typology of serial killing, invites us to consider our own reactions to her psychopathic tendencies and shows us how the sexist expectations of others have allowed her, maybe, to literally get away with murder.

The monologue constantly defies audience expectations often with a knowing wink or line. It is very funny in places and, which really surprised me, actually a little disturbing, inviting us to consider our own darkest impulses. (The Tourist may yet one day exact an ultimate retribution against those who put their feet on seats in trains).

That this should be the case is done to the brilliant performance of Hannah McClean. If acting is all about making a courageous leap to eliminate all traces of self-consciousness, to show no fear, so that an audience can suspend its own disbelief then Ms McClean succeeds in spades. Of course she hasn’t killed anyone and is not a killer for her own pleasure but she certainly makes you feel like she could be. Whilst simultaneously debunking and deconstructing the very idea. She is charming and unnerving by turns. Just occasionally the feminist message is a little too calculating, a little too strident, but it is still a powerful and effective conceit.

Unreliable narrators, especially the darkly comic, can often be relied on to tell a good story. To do this, and make telling points about gender expectations, in just 50 minutes or so, is a real coup. Pretty much every review of Ladykiller I have seen raves about it. With good reason. Definitely worth seeing should you get the opportunity. And I hope to see Hannah McClean again.

I see The Thelmas are working on a new show, Bootcamp, which involves women and boxing. I look forward to seeking that out too. (BTW The last play I saw which entered similar territory, The Sweet Science of Bruising by Joy Wilkinson, is getting a run at Wiltons in June. Well worth a visit in a venue which should suit it).

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