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New play exposes wolves dressed as sheep
Dare if you will, enter the minds and manipulations of a community of psychopaths in Thatcher's Boy Theatre's premiere of Cracked Smiles, on now at Chapel Off Chapel until 22 July. Book your tickets here.
Opening night of Cracked Smiles by Thatcher's Boy Theatre was well attended by an attentive audience. This is a new original play written by Kieran Gould-Dowen, an independent writer and producer. Co-directed by Jacinta Scadden and Gemma Flannery, the exploration of a mental illness often related to serious crimes like murder and corporate fraud is quite a risky territory to explore for a writer, directors, actors and the audience.
The audience enters the theatre by walking through the living room of a community of people. Two men are playing chess, a woman is sitting at a dining table, a young girl is wearing headphones and lying on a couch whilst another is sitting on the floor and writing in a journal. There is a man sitting at an easel with a plain white canvas with a paintbrush in hand. The room and characters are dressed like an IKEA catalogue, in stark whites, greys and neutrals which conveys a vibe of coldness, structure and sterility.
Photo courtesy of Thatcher's Boy Theatre
On the surface everything seems normal, the people appear clean, well dressed, almost elegant. But why are these people here together, in this room, with so many different activities?
Two men Malcolm (Aaron-James Campbell) and Hammurabi (David Macrae) consider playing chess and their conversation is articulate and intelligent, but each word is carefully produced, as if strategic, very much like the game.
Observing a group of psychopaths interact is not an easy or comfortable experience, from the 'fourth wall' of the theatre. Faced with 'wolves in sheep's' clothing' it can be easy to be distracted by the strained dialogue and odd behaviours. Subtler than the film The Silence of the Lambs, Cracked Smiles presents key textbook aspects of the psychopath in each character.
Michelle (Emma Cox) sits at the dining table and 'controls the floor' through her sly manipulations and collects casino chips from other members in the 'game'.
Malcolm wears a tailored blazer, never surrendering control, relishing in his power to intimidate, particularly 'Minty' (Emma Jevons) the nurse, yet is sexually controlled by Michelle.
Nigel (Seb Muirhead) repetitively paints a white canvas using only white paint because he hates 'black people', and is prone to impulsive tantrums, violent outbursts and spontaneous sexual gratification.
Holly (Rebecca Brigden) is not afraid to express her sexuality and is happy to manipulate Nigel with sexual favours, sexually harass Minty and placate Bill (Patrick Gibson) the paedophile with sexual offers.
Kimmy (Shamita Sivabalan) appears vain and narcissistic but is vulnerable to criticism about her body which others use to their advantage.
Photo courtesy of Thatcher's Boy Theatre
Then we meet Marty (Joel Rosario Alicea) who appears like a prophet or saviour of this madhouse, taking the moral high road and challenging the psychological games played by the psychopaths. He seems to have empathy and often rescues Minty from torture tactics and physical attacks. Michelle, Malcolm and Bill agree to bring Marty into their 'management' team, but then successfully kill him off in the first act. This is quite disappointing, as Marty seems to be the only sane character in this 'therapeutic-rehabilitation' facility, and there is little suspense or build up to the murder. It's cold-hearted and quick, which is the definable trait of the psychopath.
With concession given for opening night nerves, the pace of the performance was quite robotic and stiff. There were a few muddles lines which further disrupted the flow of the dialogue. However, this may also have been a stylistic choice by the directors and actors.
The first act seemed to drag, and the backstory reveals of each character were almost as painful as extracting teeth. However, according to textbooks, psychopaths love torture, lack shame or remorse, which allows them to conduct heinous crimes like murder, sexual assault, fraud and financial heists without any thought to the consequences. Again, this may have been an intentional stylistic choice by the directors and actors, and if so, was successful in providing the audience with a sense of discomfort and irritation. This also reflects Kieran Gould-Dowens' artistic vision to create theatre about the 'dark, ugly and confronting parts' of our world, and as such Cracked Smiles delivers his vision.
The diverse casting of characters was diverse, showed that psychopathy does not discriminate against age, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. This felt strange, possibly because psychopaths are typically portrayed in mainstream film and television as white young aggressive males, like Leonardo Di Caprio in The Wolf of Wall Street[middle-agedle aged white males holding high corporate positions, like Michael Douglas in [I]Wall Street.
It's evident Thatcher Boy's Theatre wants to challenge normalisation on many levels, and the theatre provides the perfect domain. So if you are curious, head along and see Cracked Smiles, a play that will not make you laugh, but invites you to consider 'the game', and your place in it.