The Castleton Massive Production presented by Crow’s Theatre
Patricia Highsmith is one of my favourite writers. Over the course of a single year, I furiously read all of her novels and short stories. I feel an intense connection to her work—to her abject sensibilities and jaundiced view of humanity. Her tales of murder and obsession lay bare so many of my deepest, darkest thoughts. It’s like she knew me—specifically the awful, ugly parts. I could sense her pointing at me, firmly yet without judgement, as if to say: I see you.
And what does all this have to do with Torquil Campbell’s intimate, meditative, tangent-traversing TRUE CRIME? For starters, I think Campbell himself would appreciate the indulgent, anecdotal preamble. And Highsmith, a crime-writer who fixated on fascinating character studies, figures quite prominently here. Campbell invites us on an odyssey into a devious criminal’s seductive personality, which is also, by extension, an examination of Campbell’s own potentially sinister impulses.
Co-created by Chris Abraham and accompanied throughout by musician Julian Brown (on electric guitar and piano), the performance has a lounge act aesthetic. Some candle-lit tables at the front of the stage and a distinctive haze in the air complete the swanky night club atmosphere. All of his crooning is done into a stylish, vintage microphone. This is, quite deliberately, an act.
Campbell’s muse here is Clark Rockefeller, a flamboyant conman who goes by a whole slew of extravagant names. In prison for murder, Campbell visits him as research for a theatre project—the very one we are watching. Conceived as a true crime exposé with personalized, artistic flourishes; it quickly evolves into a meta-textual, self-referential blend of reality and exhilarating fabrication.
Affectionate references to the artistic process abound and the overall vibe is decidedly self-aware and confessional. One of my favourite aspects of Campbell’s writing and performance is the urgent, haphazard quality that somehow, through clever structuring, pulls itself together in a thematically potent finale. Campbell has us—desperate to be sucked into a juicy story—in the palm of his hand. Even when our heads are spinning with all the relentless diversions, convolutions and re-contextualization, we stay with him.
Along the way, we are given poignant glimpses into the very concerned presence of his wife, Moya. Her all-too-sensible chagrin at his one-sided bromance with a convicted killer set’s her up as a semi-comical conscience, a foil for his reckless deep dive into Rockefeller’s convoluted story. Remington North’s elegant production design is unassuming yet persuasively moody. Except for the instruments and a music stand, the stage is black and bare. With fluctuations both subtle and jarring, his bank of lights at the rear of the stage is a fully integrated , dynamic and evocative piece of stagecraft.
Campbell is a charismatic showman and a compelling storyteller. With his electric presence, TRUE CRIME is disarmingly real even as it unravels its own mythology.