Review: Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story

Samantha Creswick 27 November 2019

Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb story, is a musical that retells the true story of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb; wealthy, intelligent young men in the 20th Century that set out to commit the ‘perfect crime’.

While ‘Thrill Me’ no doubt takes considerable license with its source tale, it is nevertheless a gritty examination of the human psyche, and the complex emotional and mental instabilities that could drive two young men, who seemingly had it all, to kill. This is, indeed, the question posed by Nathan Leopold’s parole board, which acts as a dispassionate framing device. The show opens with a 53 year old Leopold attempting, simply, to explain to this parole board, and, by extension the audience, why.

Image credit: Jay Chiswick

Although Leopold would have everyone believing he purely “went along with Richard”, the answer actually lies in the play’s titular song ‘Thrill Me’; Richard commits crime for the thrill, and Nathan is enthralled by him.

This dynamic in itself is a fascinating one, and the intimacy of the Corpus Playroom lends itself extremely well to its unfolding. This creates an incredible tension between characters and audience that gives a strange sense of complicity; is the audience not also there to be thrilled? There are wider issues at work in this, such as the ethical implications of familiarising and glamourising murderers; Nathan Leopold narrates the story, his victim is never even seen on stage.

Image credit: Jay Chiswick

The form in itself is a questionable one for such gruesome subject matter, or so I thought before seeing the show. Fortunately, the music in this show is so magnetic and brilliantly performed that it becomes indispensable to the story and characterisation. A shoutout must be given here to the Musical Director Daniel Quigley, who also remained onstage for the entire performance, supporting the vocalists on his keyboard. The vocal performances were stunning also, but where they rose and fell in dynamics and emotion, Quigley was running an admirable marathon and deserves every bit as much praise as the cast. Sound, as it was generally utilised in the show, was one of the most brilliantly designed I have ever witnessed anywhere, not just in Cambridge, evident by the fact that I was thinking, as I watched two men plot the murder of a little boy, about how sonically cohesive the production was.

Image credit: Jay Chiswick

Ultimately, however, the true brilliance of the show lies in the performances of its only actors. Joseph Folley (Loeb) and Alex Hancock (Leopold) had (and continue to have) an incredibly difficult job; not only to reckon with the characterisation of a psychopath and an obsessive, but also to carry the entire show with only the other to bounce off of. Folley captures perfectly the kind of Ted Bundy charisma that could lure in a victim, and simultaneously lures the audience in as well. He shone particularly in the songs ‘Roadster’ and ‘Afraid’, making the audience question the line between revulsion and sympathy. Hancock had to play Leopold in two stages of life, and while they didn’t always feel entirely distinct, he defined what it means to be an unreliable narrator.

His quiet obsession and controlling tendencies were artfully done, and ended up extremely central to the show.

He sustained a brilliant level of intensity throughout, and seemed to take the audience with him through every emotional cycle and realisation, which makes his duplicity and unreliability an incredible feat to pull of. Hancock really came into his own towards the end of the show, as the ever-changing power dynamics put his character in control, and his performance in ‘Life Plus 99 Years’ made it one of the most memorable moments in the show.

Image credit: Jay Chiswick

Overall, this show is incredibly well put-together, and is evidently a labour of love from all involved. Its unsettling magnetism in such an intimate setting is sure to continue to thrill for the remainder of its run.

5 stars.