“Murder is the only crime worthy of our talents.” These fateful words sum up Richard Loeb’s twisted self-confidence, and help to persuade the devoted Nathan Leopold to assist him in his increasingly dangerous thrill-seeking exploits – though with the incentive of getting some thrills of his own… The pair have been inseparable for most of their lives, though Richard put some distance between them for a while, and they didn’t end up getting into the same law schools. Nathan’s desperation to be with Richard at any cost is clear, so much so that they draw up a basic contract that affords them their individual pleasures; it binds the pair together in an endless cycle of crime which ends in the brutal murder of a young boy. But does Richard really have Nathan exactly where he wants him..?
Based on the real life criminal duo, Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story was written by Stephen Dolginoff and made its debut at the 2003 Midtown International Theater Festival in New York; a new production is currently in the middle of a limited run at The Hope Theatre. Directed by outgoing AD Matthew Parker, it stars Bart Lambert & Jack Reitman, with musical direction from Tim Shaw.
Musicals on the fringe can be risky ventures, as there’s usually no chance of amplification for the singers – so either minimal accompaniment is required, or the company has to blast their way over a full band. For Thrill Me, simplicity is the key and it proves that less really is more; accompanied masterfully by Shaw on piano, Lambert & Reitman’s voices are set free and easily carry their way around the intimate venue. Even the intrusion of music from the pub basement cannot distract from the stunning harmonies created as vocals & piano blend together to tell the story of “the Thrill Killers”.
What’s also mightily impressive is Rachael Ryan’s set design. When you get upstairs you don’t just enter the theatre, you step back in time to an authentic-looking 1920s detective’s office; photos & clippings adorn the walls and are all connected up by a complicated tangle of red string. There are various examples of period lighting, as well as shutters on the back walls – and the piano is even disguised as a desk. If it doesn’t sound impressive from this description then you’ll just have to go and see it for yourself! Without a doubt, it’s one of the best designed & thought out sets I’ve seen on the fringe. Whilst you don’t necessarily need a set like this, the sheer attention to detail is what elevates a good production into an outstanding one.
The final piece of the puzzle is the pair of actors chosen to bring these characters to life, and it’s another big tick here. Jack Reitman is suave & aloof as Richard Loeb, absolutely nailing the acts of overt manipulation to which he subjects Nathan; Richard toys with him, only committing when he feels he has to. Opposite him, Bart Lambert is electrifying as Nathan – you can see clearly how the slightest bit of attention from Richard utterly transforms him, and through Lambert’s performance you feel the extremes of joy & rejection along with him. He is undoubtedly one to watch.
This production is a timely reminder of the show’s brilliance, as well as a great introduction for anyone who has never seen it before – and a fine example of what can be achieved in a pub theatre.
My verdict? A classy revival of a darkly funny two-hander musical, superbly designed & impeccably performed – a thrill from start to finish!
Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story runs at The Hope Theatre until 20 April 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.