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The Three Faces of Doctor Crippen
Published on Wednesday, 22 August 2012
4

4 stars

C venues - C (venue website)
Theatre
1-15, 18-27 Aug, 9:45pm-10:50pm
Reviewed by Will Howard

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

When one thinks of ambitious theatrical productions, one tends to think of huge budgets, and large animatronic creatures on stage. The Three Faces of Doctor Crippen is very on a vastly smaller scale, but in many ways it’s just as worthy of the term. Reading-based company FreeRange are presenting the European premiere of a partly-improvised “Mad Vaudevillian Farce”, that seeks to humanise one of the twentieth century’s most famous murderers by having his Id, Ego and Super-Ego performed by three different actors. They’re also appearing in two other productions running at the same time, and all but one of the actors are under 22… but miraculously, FreeRange get away with it, creating a show as memorable as it is funny and spectacularly odd.

The show is unique from the very beginning. Upon entering the venue, the three aspects of Crippen (Private Crippen, Public Crippen and Fantasy Crippen as Super-Ego, Ego and Id respectively) banter with the audience and each other, before introducing the play and its controlled nature. Very soon afterwards this was revealed to be utter tripe, as the Crippens started arguing over which part of their life story they should begin with. It’s as self-aware as it gets on this year’s Fringe and it works very well. The interplay between the three Crippens is masterful, presenting the production as if the three of them are putting on the show themselves pretty much on the spur of the moment; they have an abundance of chemistry and bounce off each other like they were born to do it. The supporting cast, impressive as well, follow by the skin of their teeth.

The story does take something of a back seat to the wackiness that ensues, and the two main female characters don’t really have much to do beyond be extremely hateable (Crippen’s second wife Cora) or be the real love interest (his mistress Ethel). Both do them marvellously well with what they’re given, but are utterly overshadowed by the Crippens. Given the amount of talent on display, that feels a shame, and there are some surprisingly moving scenes between Private Crippen and Ethel which demonstrate that this production could have been quite a lot more than just funny. Also, for a show that’s so based around classic vaudeville tropes and improvisation, not all of the jokes totally hit the mark – though arguably that makes the ones that do work count all the more.

I can wholeheartedly recommend The Three Faces of Doctor Crippen to anyone with an appetite for something that proudly laughs in the face of traditional theatre tropes, and boasts some great lines to boot. While it may not be ambitious in the same way that, say War Horse is, FreeRange Productions have taken on a massive challenge for this year’s Fringe. And if the other two other plays they’re behind are anything like this, then they will have pulled it off with style.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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