REVIEW: August012’s Roberto Zucco – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff by Sam Pryce

We all have a morbid fascination with serial killers. How can someone be that fearless and disturbed to commit such an act of forethought malice over and over again? In this 1988 absurdist play from French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltѐs, the notion that a killer is in fact influenced by the hypocrisy and corruption of others is explored via the real life Italian killer Roberto Zucco – infamous for first killing his parents before moving on to police officers, women and a child. Certainly not your usual protagonist, but what is especially unsettling is that you find yourself empathising with his character the most. That’s when a play has really done its job.
Such a provocative, audacious idea must be conveyed in an engaging enough way for its audience to listen and this company doubtlessly flourish. Under Mathilde Lόpez’s always revelatory direction, this production terminates your grasp of sanity from the moment you walk through the door. Much like Tonypandemonium in its impulsive, even primal spontaneity, no scene has a set beginning or end and, despite the traverse staging, the entire space is used. What erupts is an exhilarating if disorienting experience. With all those rapid head movements, it’s a bit like being at Wimbledon.
Yet another inventive aspect of this production comes in the form of a choir whose soaring voices underscore the piece adding fluidity to the act and a somewhat ethereal atmosphere. It gives Zucco’s story the feel of a great operatic tragedy.
The cast are boundless in their abilities. All hang-ups are lost, which is customary if you’re working with Lόpez. With Roberto Zucco being the only concrete character, the more-than-mutable supporting cast must resort to shifting personas in the space of seconds. Bethan Mai foams and fizzes with mischievous allure and emotional instability. Joanna Simpkins, with her arresting glare, delivers the text fiercely with vigour and verve. John Norton transcends gender and nationality to assume progressively ludicrous guises and, as a result, gains a lot of laughs. And, last but not least, Adam Redmore as the eponymous assassin is cleverly the most vulnerable, with a killer’s vacant gaze, blameless in a troupe of flippant coppers, manipulative mothers and incestuous siblings.
Of course, the best performances come from the (un)lucky audience members who, curiously, always oblige to joining in, whether they have lines to say or a chair to give. Lunacy is omnipresent and openly encouraged.
Explosive and uncompromising, Roberto Zucco shocks, excites, tickles and disturbs. The gusto never dips and the mood never dampens. Kill for a ticket. Sit in the front row. Leave your inhibitions at home.

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