The complex and endlessly interesting mindset of a killer can often be seen as fertile ground for creating dramatic work, and here Big Mouth Theatre Company take a run at doing just that. Using the lead-up to the assassination of John Lennon in December 1980 as its stimulus, the production follows an evening in the life, not the superstar musician himself, but of his killer Mark Chapman. We are given a glimpse into a night at home with his family before he flies to New York to commit one of pop music’s most scandalous crimes.
The four-strong cast carry the show well through it’s 45-minute duration with strong performances all round. The newcomer to the family, played by Alex Boxall, brings a breath of fresh air upon entrance and Heidi Goldsmith’s long-suffering Gloria – Chapman’s wife – is portrayed honestly and endearingly. The decision to show Chapman’s inner monologue through moments of confidence with the audience worked well to demonstrate the process behind his actions and why he felt the need to do what he did. However, the problem with this is that in some capacity it feels like the show wants the audience to understand what Chapman did and, as the court case brought up, his were not the thoughts of a rational man. While Pete Darwent, playing Chapman, does a good job of showing that these irrational thoughts and needs are justified to himself, it feels like there needed to be something more to really underline these moments in just how delusional Chapman had become by this point.
What lets the show down in it’s current stage is the writing. As the show appears to be set in 1980 before Chapman makes the move to assassinate Lennon – two of the characters having a conversation about seeing the Beatles live cements the time frame – more modern turns-of-phrase such as “spoiler alert” seem out of place, and some of the text unfortunately clunks against the everyday dinner party setting. A normalisation of the speech in the show would perhaps help move the narrative into a more natural pace and rhythm. There also seemed to be moments where the production felt the need to really spell things out for the audience, such as the repetition of the fact Chapman was reading Catcher in the Rye. While this is an important part of Chapman’s story – he insisted to the police upon arrest that the novel was his statement – I didn’t feel like I needed the presence of the book emphasised to me as much as it was, and it would have been a more ominous presence in the narrative if mentioned in passing by those not inside Chapman’s mind.
Man and Superfan takes on a huge topic of pop-culture fanaticism which is evermore current and gives an insight into the dark and murky world of the mind of a killer. While the show would benefit from some editing and reworking, this is a promising start from the young theatre company.
Man and Superfan is playing at Theatre N16 at The Bedford, Balham until 26 November. For more information and tickets see the Big Mouth website.