Having first discovered this musical only a few years ago at The Old Rep, I was genuinely excited to see it again in the immersive Old Joint Stock. Thrill Me really lends itself to a small space, heightening the tension and luring in the audience.
Based on the true story of two students who kidnapped and killed 14-year-old “Bobby” Franks in Chicago, this chilling tale is eerily brought to life by the pairing of James Edge (Richard Loeb) and Karl Steele (Nathan Leopold Jr). Edge’s Loeb is sinister, a psychotic sociopath who gets a ‘thrill’ from committing crimes, whether arson or petty theft. Whilst at first glance Steele’s Leopold is the victim of unrequited love. Lovelorn, he desperately longs to be with Loeb and over the years has helplessly followed him around, helping him commit crimes, eventually signing a contract that he will assist in Loeb’s crimes in return for sex.
However, it is soon apparent that Loeb doesn’t feel ‘thrilled’ or satisfied by these seemingly insignificant crimes. He soon becomes unnervingly attached to Nietzsche’s theory of the Superman, convincing Leopold that they are unstoppable. In the belief that he is above the law and able to commit the perfect crime, Loeb convinces Leopold that the next step is murder.
Edge and Steele’s chemistry throughout is palpable. They are a chilling pair and the intimate performance space makes for increasingly uncomfortable viewing (which is a good thing.) James Edge delivers on every level in this performance; his unsettling portrayal of Loeb was particularly evoked in Roadster as he lures “Bobby” into his car, whilst Leopold quietly observes. This sequence was cleverly captured, as lights shone out from either side of the piano, forming the piercing headlights.
Meanwhile, Karl Steele is a master of his craft in this performance. Seemingly subservient, he captures the dark twist to Leopold’s character exceedingly well. And when Steele and Edge join together, their vocals impress. Highlights of the night included Steele’s My Glasses/Just Lay Low, the heart-racing I’m Trying To Think and the finale of Life Plus 99 Years. However the moment that really struck a chord was Edge’s rendition of Afraid – the outpouring of a troubled mind, it was intelligently and unfalteringly performed.
Stephen Dolginoff’s creation of a psychological thriller musical is nothing short of genius and the creative team behind this staging have done more than justice to this show. Kudos to Musical Director Nick Allen who had the task of playing for near enough the whole 2 hours of performance and under Adam Lacey’s direction, the Old Joint Stock have yet again proved that they can deliver the highest quality of work.
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