Theatre Royal Haymarket
When I first saw Bryony Lavery’s harrowing play in 2002, one question nagged at me: how does an actor shed a role as disturbing as Ralph when he goes home after a performance?
In Lavery’s well-researched play at the centre of which is a child’s murder, Ralph is the serial killer, Nancy is his mother, and Agnetha the American criminologist whose job it is to discover not who did it, but why.
Jonathan Munby’s production is superbly acted. Doctor Foster star Suranne Jones is terrific as the tormented mother, as is Nina Sosanya as New Yorker Agnetha who is drawn to Britain by the atrocity. But the performance that lodges in the mind like an ice pick comes from Jason Watkins, who portrays the many facets of Ralph, a man consumed with the urge to kill young girls. The most chilling of these is his ordinariness.
The play would have been exploitative of our greatest fears were it not for the fact that the audience leaves with more understanding about what motivates men such as Ralph than they went in with.
In the interval, I bumped into the mother of the girl playing Ralph’s victim. She told me Watkins has access to a psychologist to help him deal with the role. So that’s how.