"DERROGADE, DERROGADE, STOP that whistling!” screeches a prison guard at a prisoner. With this haunting whistle we are introduced to the surly figure in the glass cell that gives his name to the play: Harry Derrogade. Derrogade is a caged psychopath who has been wallowing for 11 years in solitary confinement, no post and no human contact except for his gourmless guard and a vicious doorman.
His isolation is disturbed by the sudden arrival of journalist “Nat Harper”, who presents a prim but secretive figure, declaring herself “very interested” in Mr Derrogade. The basic notion of the play is a dual mystery, one being the reason for Ms Harper’s interest and the other being the exact nature of Derrogade’s crimes. The play takes the form of multiple interviews, Harper sitting facing the audience, avoiding the eye of her subject who looms over her shoulder behind a glass wall.
Despite the morbid fascination that psychopaths always engender in an audience, the fascination with this one couldn’t quite sustain. Instead of penetrating questions that slowly draw out the crimes and psyche of a killer, the dialogue vacillates too much between emotionless and superficial questioning by Harper and erratic emotional outbursts by Derrogade.
George Longworth as Derrogade does a fairly good job, especially when portraying someone tormented both by boredom and perhaps by the memory of previous crimes. Unfortunately, the aggression that he adopts for much of the play precludes him really becoming a terrifying killer or a sympathetic caged jailbird. There was a similar problem with Harper who flicks between a tight-lipped and hard-headed investigator and someone too contemptuous of her subject to ever have had a chance of getting anywhere with him and his story.
The loose ends are eventually tied up in a very exciting ending that takes the play up a gear and all is revealed. At this point all the characters really come into their own. Because of its short length and fundamentally sound plot the play is ultimately entertaining, but the script could do much more to overcome the audience’s frustration at the lack of insight into either character and the lingering implausibility of a journalist’s casual jaunts into a high security prison. Obviously it’s supposed to be a mystery, but it remains too much of a mystery for far too long.