Hope Theatre, London – until 20 April 2019
How far to go in the name of erotic obsession? You’d hesitate to call Thrill Me – The Leopold & Loeb Story a love story, what happens here is far too dark and twisted for that, but what you do get is a horribly fascinating study of twisting power dynamics and blurred moralities. And with sex thrown into the equation, it becomes a heady combination, enough to drive you to… well, you’ll see.
Stephen Dolginoff’s one-act musical is based on the true story of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold but rather than glorifying their crimes, including murder, it focuses on the extraordinary relationship between these two men in 1920s Chicago. Lovers, abusers, conspirators, victims, they slip and slide from pillar to post as we try to make sense of who they are and what they do to each other.
The story is told in flashback as Leopold pleads to a parole board and Matthew Parker’s production highlights this in an inspired way. Rachael Ryan’s brilliantly detailed set design nods to our ongoing obsession with true crime and Chris McDonnell’s lighting has a dramatic, dreamy quality which suits Leopold’s reminiscences which are naturally heavy on erotic intimacies, hinting that they might not be as reliable as all that.
Parker’s production is also blessed with some astute casting. Bart Lambert’s edgily intense Leopold is a commanding physical presence even as we see him crave the kisses and touches from a lover who knows the power of withholding them. And Jack Reitman finds just the right note of oily charm to place a veneer over his rotten-to-the-core soul and together, they’re full of all the right twisted chemistry.
Tim Shaw’s musical direction from the piano is as effective at moody underscoring as it is in delivering Dolginoff’s songs which further emphasise the fierce emotions here, all the more intense for this intimate setting. Ultimately, there’s a thrill here which can’t be denied – the Hope will miss Matthew Parker when he leaves.