Newly formed 81K Theatre Company’s Fred and Rose offers a well staged, detailed examination of the real life case of serial killer couple Fred and Rose West. This production, staged just off the Royal Mile at Venue 13, and devised entirely by the cast themselves, is intelligent, mature and gripping. It’s greatest strength is an excellent attention to detail in the dialogue (much of it taken from real police recordings), carefully choreographed staging and performance.
The play starts as police officers question the titular characters about the disappearance of their daughter, suspecting as the play commences that the ill tempered couple may in fact be responsible for her murder. Time moves back and forth in this play through beautiful and crisp scene transitions that place scenes in both the past and present side by side. There is an obsession with small details, such as the legal police procedures surrounding interview and detention, which constantly hang over the two officers as they try and race against time to collect enough evidence. There is also detail in the performances, with the entire cast having clearly done research into their character’s behavioural tics and mannerisms. Liam Wheeler, in particular, portrays Fred’s seedy desire for the family nanny with just the slightest movement of the tongue across the lips or the flicker of an eye.
However, the show’s main weakness is the performers seem beholden to the real life tapes they are based on. The Edfringe website’s official description boasts “every word, every pause, is as it was uttered”. The end result of this is although the performances are very detailed they come across as quite stilted. And this stilted rhythm to the dialogue, which seems to deny the actors the freedom to fully and truthfully connect with each other transfers into the scenes not based on recordings–where we can’t possibly have known what the couple or the police said to each other and in what manner.
It’s admirable to try and closely recreate a real event like this but exact rhythm and intonation is not necessarily helpful to get across the essential nature of this couple’s humanity, or lack of it. It’s also a little jarring that middle aged characters are played by actors clearly not their age but the detail in the performances mostly makes up for this, so it’s not massively distracting.
Overall, this is a solid play, keeping the audience interested from start to finish with some admirable, if imperfect, performances. It’s unclear what we’re supposed to take away from it at the end but it offers thoughtful insight into a very disturbing and unique historical event. The play stars Liam Wheeler, Florence Lovell, Caroline Roberts, Bryony Kemeys and Mark Gibson and is the company’s first show at the Edinburgh Fringe. 3/5