In 1953 a man named John Christie was finally captured, and hanged, after committing at least eight murders over the course of a decade. Howard Brenton’s 1969 play, based around a single setting and featuring just three, excellent, actors manages to create a real sense of menace that never leaves the room.
There’s a palpable anger to the writing, too – an innocent man was hanged, and at least four women died unnecessarily, thanks to an inept and possibly corrupt police investigation. Interestingly, the play makes no attempt to portray Christie in a sympathetic light (admittedly, that would have been difficult), choosing instead to focus on the misogyny and snobbery that were rife in 1950s Britain.
The 10 Rillington Place murders, as they came to be known, are seen as the catalyst which led to the abolition of the death penalty; it could be argued, too, that the fallout from the murders and the reaction of both the public and the press to a horrendous miscarriage of justice changed our society forever. In its own small way this play – only 65 minutes long – shines a light onto an episode of history the Establishment would prefer to be forgotten, demonstrating that, bleak as the world sometimes seems today, there has at least been some progress as regards our attitude towards crime, punishment and – hopefully – justice.