Review: Bible John, VAULT Festival

Unlike the four women around whom Bible John is built, I absolutely can’t listen to or watch anything to do with true crime, unless it’s so highly stylised and fictionalised that it bears absolutely no resemblance to real life. To me, the awareness of the unknown is somehow more uncomfortable than the exposure to what could, hypothetically, maybe be out there. Well, perhaps I mean what’s certainly out there. Just hopefully not for me. 

However, I know so many people who couldn’t disagree more with me on that – people for whom true crime seems like a talisman of sorts, a gathering of knowledge to protect them from the unknown. But that’s a dead end. Like one of the women in the play tells us via an artistically unmatched powerpoint, it’s speculation. Not fact. I don’t honestly know why other people enjoy true crime so much, or how it can offer such fascination. It’s a relief that Caitlin McEwan’s script doesn’t explicitly try to throw us a single, most likely unsatisfactory answer to anybody’s motivations. There’s more to be found in ambiguity, and in recognising that we can’t always know, either about each other, or about long-mythologised serial killers.

Really, this is more a play about the experience of engaging rather than about the material itself – and rightly so. There are so many true crimes podcasts/shows/books, and given the nature of the subject it feels more important than ever that we remain critical of how – and perhaps why – we engage with it. 

As an ensemble piece, Bible John works brilliantly. It’s fast paced and slick, but it doesn’t seem to get tied down by either the depth or breadth of the contents. It definitely feels longer than an hour, but that’s because so much happens, never because it drags. I certainly didn’t expect to laugh so much – for a show about a serial murderer it is actually incredibly funny, but never at the expense of anything which shouldn’t be laughed about. It’s a critique of our ability to think critically of the material we engage with, and a recognition that this engagement is frequently less for its own sake and more for the community that it may bring. It takes its characters seriously, and manages to genuinely represent a community with a whole variety of motivations in all its glory. More than that, it gives time and space to four fictional but recognizable women who choose to dedicate their time to a passion. That passion is elevated and explored, rather than reduced to comedy value or brushed under the carpet. 

So whether you’re like me and can’t bear true crime, or whether you live for it, this play has space to speak to you. Bible John’s empathy and intelligence shines through, making this hour feel full, welcoming and like something that should be shared.

Bible John is playing the VAULT festival until 16 February. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.