Tue 4th – Sat 8th February 2014


Christy Edwall

at 08:02 on 5th Feb 2014



Derrogade's effects are quite good: a strong strobe flash to stimulate a photographer’s bulb, and, at the climax, the sort of special effects one sees on the silver screen. The performances are good too: credit goes to the George Longworth as Derrogade, the eponymous figure imprisoned for mass murder, who makes a strong use of subtle facial tics and less subtle physical explosions of aggression, compulsive means of dealing with reality and of keeping it at bay. The jutting of his chin and his demonic smirk hint suggest Ralph Fiennes as a lurking inspiration. Freya Mead’s performance as the journalist Nat Harper, come to visit Derrogade for her great scoop, is sculpted (one fears overly mannered) but energises significantly and at great speed before the end of the play.

This is good student writing, and suggests fine work to come from Stuchfield. But the play is almost defeated by its expectations. It’s a short piece at an hour’s length; it is surprisingly light, for what is billed as very heavy material. For half of the play, Derrogade is not unlike a Silence of the Lambs for teenagers, with the Lector figure figured as a moody adolescent.

Stuchfield signals very clearly where the play is going by means of repetition (Derrogade’s name is traded between characters as a a basso continuo), overemphasis, and the Chekhovian introduction of a letter-opener. The play is structured by the conceit of several interviews between Harper and Derrogade of which the audience sees only a truncated version. The brevity of the visits, the vignette-like sense, contributes to the sense of immobility and routine: life in the prison is like Groundhog Day, where the clock is reset but nothing new is accomplished.

When it comes down to the disclosure of the real story – that is, the crimes for which Derrogade is incarcerated – thrust out three-quarters of the way through, one wishes for a more tenacious duet between the two leads throughout the play: a long tussle of personality and opposed force, a gradual teasing out of Derrogade’s history, a subtler and more ferocious engagement in which the conclusion is drawn out rather than exposed in an Agatha Christie-like finale.

Nevertheless, despite the suspicion that Derrogade is an exercise in writing about murder and monstrosity rather than an exploration of murder and monstrosity itself, the play shows Stuchfield to be an ambitious writer of genre.


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