Everyone I spoke to after seeing Greg Wohead’s provocative show The Ted Bundy Project took something different away with them.
Everyone had come to the show expecting something different. Some were expecting blood and gore, some were expecting emotional stories of the families left behind, some wanted to know the details of the mind of a serial killer. None of these people got quite what they were expecting, and all of them left the venue wanting to talk about it.
This show is not a story, it’s not a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. It is an exercise in the uncomfortable. We meet Greg, he is warm and charming, he plays a record and does a kitsch hint of a dance to the music. He makes direct eye contact with each and every one of us, and we can’t help but smile back at him.
He greets us, messes up a line, makes us laugh. He tells us all about Ted Bundy’s charm, how he lured young women by faking and injury and struggling with luggage. He was handsome, he was intelligent and engaging, but it hides a very sinister character not that far underneath.
When Greg repeats his opening lines, half way through the piece, in exactly the same, charming way, we realise that we have fallen foul of the same lure. It is a clever, very subtle device. It is manipulative, just as someone like Bundy might be.
The piece is not about Ted Bundy, or his victims, although they are our primary focus. Instead, it is about us, the general public, and the voyeuristic society that we live in. With hundreds of television programmes about murder, real crime, the lives of killers, and so on, we are surrounded with a beautified and manipulated version of death. We watch it, in our thousands. Greg, indirectly, asks us why.
His narrative is highly detailed, but very unemotional. He is almost the Wikipedia page that you might search for, recounting detail, with some supposition, but mostly just cold, inhuman facts. He leaves the rest up to us. In fact, the long gaps and uncomfortable silences within the piece have the same effect. They force us to sit there, imagining the rest of the story.
Greg began research for this piece when he stumbled upon a 20-minute long recording of an interview with Bundy. He was interested in his own fascination with the recording and his draw to hear the gory details. He plays the tapes, only to himself, we never hear it.
We hear instead Greg repeating it to us, imitating Bundy’s voice. It is quite chilling, but also completely ordinary. The absence of the visual image in this piece is where its power lies. The set, the narrative, the delivery, are all very simple, it makes us face our own imagination and the sometimes gruesome places it can delight in.
The Guardian‘s Lyn Gardner described this piece as ‘slippery’ and I can’t think of a better word. It leaves you feeling uncomfortable, manipulated and a little violated. Not because of anything he has shown you, but because of where your own mind wanders, because of the desire to go home and Google for more information, because of the memory of all the nasty horror films you have ever watched, because of the one time you were so angry you wished harm, secretly, on someone else, because you can’t help but want to see what’s coming next. It is a superbly clever, very dark show about the uncomfortable corners of the human mind, and, as usual, is expertly performed.
This is unlike any of Wohead’s previous shows that have come to South Street Arts Centre, it is challenging and unsettling. One similarity runs through them all however, and that is his ability to use his audience to bring their own experience to his work. His piece Hurtling, coming back to the venue in June demonstrates this brilliantly.
These theatre pieces take each audience member on a journey; they are intimate and personal, some dark, some light, but they are all about you and as such, they resonate with a lasting power that will make you want to stand in the foyer and talk about it until the venue asks you to leave.
Image credit Rod Farry. First published in British Theatre Guide