Howard Brenton's Christie in Love is based around the real-life mass murderer John Reginald Christie (1899-1953), familiar to many from the film 10 Rillington Place.
Rather than giving a narrative account of his life and crimes, the play focuses on Christie's twisted view of women and the meaning of love. It opens in Christie's garden, represented in this performance by knee-deep scrunched up newspaper, where a police constable is digging for bones – women's bones. The tone darkens as a woman's body and then Christie himself, complete with grotesque oversized mask, emerge from the lifeless litter.
At the heart of the play is an exploration of the character which emerges from the mask. We quickly learn the disturbing truth that Christie, like most mass murderers, is not the monster we would like him to be but a rather unassuming man who "passes like a ghost".
The action switches between scenes of interrogation where the all-powerful police inspector challenges a pathetic, powerless Christie to face the truth about himself and scenes between Christie and one of his victims where all the power is in Christie's hands.
Director Sam Luker Brown chose the play because he admired Brenton's writing and was attracted by the challenge of staging it in "The Pilch" – Balliol's tiny black box studio space. The play as written has a running time of 20 minutes, but in this staging it runs for just over an hour without any feeling of having been 'padded out'.
Rory Grant (Christie), Joe Peden (Constable) and Amelia Coen (Inspector) all turn in strong, powerful performances. The casting of a woman in the role of Inspector, whilst historically inaccurate, is a good creative decision as it means that Christie is brought to account not merely by agents of the state but by a member of the sex which he so despises.
An excellent production of this slightly edgy piece.