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Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story review at the Hope Theatre, London – ‘intense and stylish’

Bart Lambert and Jack Reitman in Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story at London's Hope Theatre. Photo: lhphotoshots
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Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb should probably be consigned to anonymous ignominy. Two young men from wealthy families in the 1920s, they conspired to murder a teenager simply for the thrill of committing the perfect crime. Their trial caused a sensation and is far from being forgotten – on more than one occasion dramatists have attempted to tell their story. Stephen Dolginoff’s 2003 one-act musical gives a voice to the couple, exploring their psychological and sexual relationship.

It’s a heavy-going 80 minutes, but Matthew Parker’s production strikes just the right tone to make this bitter piece work. In Parker’s hands, it’s a chamber musical of horrors, dark and claustrophobic thanks to Rachael Ryan’s forensic setting and Chris McDonnell’s neo-noir lighting design. Tim Shaw injects a little bombast into Dolginoff’s insistent, eerily romantic score but the lion’s share of the credit must go to performers Bart Lambert as Leopold and Jack Reitman as Loeb.

These are wholly unsympathetic characters and rather refreshingly for this musical, nothing is done to sweeten the pill. Reitman’s Loeb is a poor-little-rich kid with a Nero complex, slimy rather than smooth and yet utterly compelling – especially when seen through the eyes of Lambert’s exceptional Leopold. Lambert’s body clenches and twists, bringing an almost Gothic intensity to this bizarre, co-dependent relationship.

Intense, stylish and revelatory, Parker’s production of Thrill Me proves emblematic of the quality of work at the Hope during his tenure and a fitting highlight of his swansong season there.

The Ruffian on the Stair review at Hope Theatre, London – ‘fresh, funny and ruthless’

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Appropriately dark, haunted staging of Stephen Dolginoff’s problematic musical