First published in The Times, Wednesday August 7 2019
The demand for true crime has never been greater. Television schedules are saturated with documentaries based on real-life murder cases, from The Staircase to Making a Murderer, while blockbuster podcasts such as Serial and Dirty John have bequeathed the genre to an ardent younger audience.
This new Fringe show, created by the writer-performer Caitlin McEwan, sets out to explore the enduring phenomenon. The piece acknowledges the deep irony that a predominantly female audience is consuming these real-life tragedies, whose victims are mostly women. In the opening moments we see footage of a group of women discussing their favourite unsolved murders with the breathless excitement that might once have been applied to a soap opera or sitcom. “JonBenét Ramsey’s my favourite,” says one enthused interviewee.
Pic: Alessa Davison
The show, with a cast of four, tries to understand the appeal of true crime by revisiting one of Scotland’s most notorious cases, that of “Bible John”, who murdered three women in Glasgow between 1968 and 1969. While these crimes have never officially been solved, there is no great mystery as to why the case has stayed in the public consciousness. Its ingredients (all three women met their Old Testament-quoting killer during a night out at the city’s Barrowland Ballroom) are as grotesquely colourful as any fiction thriller.
Pic: Alessa Davison
The staging includes a witty pastiche of the genre’s tropes, including melodramatic cliffhangers and urgent narration. The recreation of the Bible John manhunt is compelling, even if, when it comes to interrogating whether the big business of true crime as entertainment is morally defensible, the piece barely scratches the surface. Lizzie Manwaring’s production is theatrically daring though rather too packed (the opening performance featured technical problems). The most refreshing aspect of the show is its focus on the women victims rather than the shadowy male perpetrator.