Bible John at the Pleasance Courtyard | Edinburgh Fringe
It started off reasonably well, with the narrative of an actual case of a serial killer, still unidentified, whose victims were all in Glasgow. Patricia Docker, 25, a nurse, was murdered in February 1968.
Jemima McDonald, 32, a mother of three, was murdered in August 1969. Helen Puttock, 29, was murdered in October 1969. What links the cases is that they were all attendees of the Barrowland Ballroom. Despite being associated with the tragic events, the venue continues to operate, providing pleasure and entertainment to its customers.
The play is divided into eight ‘episodes’ before rounding off with a (secular) sermon from writer Caitlin McEwan, who expresses boredom that ‘all’ serial killers are men (Myra Hindley and Rosemary West, anyone?). It was difficult to see where this line of argument was going – serial killers are hardly venerated by society at large in any event. Is the play seriously advocating that more women need to step up to the plate and kill lots of people, preferably men, to restore equilibrium? McEwan certainly goes as far as encouraging support for violent women, though quite what ‘support’ means (here’s hoping for psychiatric treatment of some sort) wasn’t made crystal clear. Serial killers, in my view, are terrible people, irrespective of gender or any other personal characteristics.
Some other parts of the play don’t quite come together either. McEwan is supported in a quest to get to the bottom of who Bible John was or is once and for all by Ella McLeod, Laurie Ogden and Lauren Santana, believing themselves to be better than Police Scotland at crime investigation. An absurd proposition (and rather insulting to Police Scotland), and to be fair one of them does assert that there’s nothing to be too disheartened about not being able to discover what previous thorough police investigations couldn’t.
Quite why they did so at all stems from their love, both individual and collective, of certain podcasts, which inspires them to do their own detective work. It’s a bit like people who take up baking on the back of The Great British Bake-Off. The show then seems to turn against crime podcasts, perhaps demonstrative of the fickleness of the way in which (some) millennials think. Things got very repetitive towards the end – I should have done a tally of how many times the line, “It’s not him” was repeated, but even that might have been a waste of notebook paper.
It is not without redeeming features – the use of technology to project words and images was effective, for instance. But what was that dance about towards the end? It seemed in bad taste for a show about murdered women. That said, some people very much enjoyed it, I clearly just didn’t get it.
Review by Chris Omaweng
1969 at the Barrowlands Ballroom in Glasgow, three women are murdered by an Old Testament-quoting serial killer, nicknamed Bible John. He’s never been caught. 2019, four women bound by their obsession with true crime want to change that. Immersing themselves in the world of Bible John and his victims, they try to solve the case, once and for all. A riotous, furious, joyful exploration of violence, gender and one of Scotland’s darkest mysteries. Samuel French New Play Award 2017. **** (Scotsman). **** (Stage). Presented by Bible John Play and The Pleasance. 2019 Charlie Hartill Special Reserve Fund recipient.
Booking to 26th August 2019