Roberto Zucco“Killers never look like killers. Killers go for quiet little strolls in the crowd just like you and me.”

So we are told by French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès in his play based (loosely, it would seem) on the exploits of real-life Italian serial killer Roberto Succo aka Roberto Zucco. Having murdered his parents in 1981 and escaped from a psychiatric prison a few years later, the historical Succo committed several more crimes across Western Europe, including rape, burglary and the murder of two police officers, making him a very wanted man indeed. Eventually caught, Succo ultimately committed suicide in 1988 after falling from the roof of his asylum in another escape attempt.

Koltès, however, was by no means attempting to craft merely an historical recounting, as his fictionalised Roberto Zucco commits his crimes in a divergent chronological order, using different methods and apparently not even including all the same victims as he did in reality. Instead the play is a curious meditation on the killer himself, or possibly just the idea of him, contemplating what a person like this might represent as an example of humanity. Is such a man totally aberrant, or do these violent tendencies exist within us all?

Personally, I found that the play divulged no interesting answers (or even musings) on this score. Perhaps Koltès’ semi-absurdist writing style is the reason, or possibly the influence of the translation by UK playwright Martin Crimp is to blame, since descriptions of his own work as being bleak, detached and more concerned with the use of language and theatricality than characterisation and plot would certainly all apply very neatly to Roberto Zucco.

Which is not to say that the play is bad, but it definitely wasn’t to my taste. Some other members of the crowd seemed to like it better, responding heartily to some of the humorous turns by the cast (although their reactions seemed as though possibly those of supportive friends or classmates).

Overall, the show simply failed to engage me. Although sometimes plays with fractured or otherwise de-emphasised plotting can be thoroughly entertaining, I found the narrative here to be highly unengaging. Although linear, it seemed disconnected, lacking a sense of overall unity or purpose. Individual scenes had tension and dramatic arcs, but the wider play did not, seeming more like a collection of scenes that technically told a story but without any strong sense of an overarching drama. Perhaps this was by design, but it is hard to say.

This should not reflect poorly on the cast, who were quite strong. A delightfully large group of 13, the graduating class of The Actors College of Theatre & Television were all very good ensemble actors, and although there were no outstanding performers in evidence there were definitely no weak links either. Director Camilla Ah Kin has enhanced the production with various pieces of quite interesting stagecraft, as well as drawn some interesting and diverse performances out of her large student cast.

Of note were Jillian Russ as the sardonic, gum-chewing Madam, Patrick Connolly in a versatile trio of roles, and especially Chloe Schwank as the rather perverse character of An Elegant Lady, who flirts with Zucco and is then taken as his hostage, appearing rather aroused by being roughly held at gunpoint and subsequently seems oddly philosophical and unwilling to leave her captor even after he murders her own son. This scene involving the tense hostage situation in a public park, with helicopters and a running commentary from an argumentative crowd of bystanders, was certainly the highlight of the production.

Unfortunately though, there was something else not quite working at Roberto Zucco’s core. Although I can’t fault anything specific about his performance, Eddie Diamandi was somehow unable to bring the title character to life for me, although this problem could well have originated on the page. Not an obsessively formulaic serial killer in the sensationalised manner we have been schooled in by American film and television, Zucco seems to be more sociopath than stalker, committing his crimes in fits of passion or alienation. While even this may sound potentially interesting, somehow the dangerous figure failed to gel. Described by Koltès as “a mythical character, a hero like Samson or Goliath”, the playwright clearly viewed Zucco as wildly charismatic, yet what I saw before me was a great deal short of that goal. Although I can’t put my finger on whether the failing lies with Koltès, Crimp, Ah Kin or Diamandi (or some combination thereof), something was certainly lacking if charisma was the intended result for the role. Needless to say, given that Zucco himself is the central topic of the play, that is quite a problem for this production.

This curious production is not without its moments, but seems a less than optimal showcase for its talented cast.

ACTT presents
Roberto Zucco
by Bernard-Marie Koltes’
Venue: Cleveland St THEATRE, 199 Cleveland St Central                           
Dates: 16th May to 26th May
Times: Tues - Sat @ 8pm  and Sun @ 6pm
Bookings: 9212 6000

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