There is a lot of blood. It pools underneath the body, lying face down on the floor. A woman in an old-fashioned maid’s uniform steps into the room. There is blood on her apron, coated halfway up her arms, in the crevices of her hands and beds of her nails. It spreads a gory trail as she touches things, almost inadvertently: her forehead, the arms of the chair, her phone. Some of the blood looks obviously fake, particularly as it smears on clothes. But the blood on skin, that looks more real. There’s a bit when the woman is describing how the body smells – metallic, like her granddad’s motorcycle, orange with rust. For a moment, just for a moment, I think that I can smell the blood too and feel slightly sick. This show is not for the squeamish or the easily suggestible.
Ladykiller by Madeline Gould is a hilariously dark comic monologue, delivered with aplomb by performer Hannah McLean. The combination of Gould’s writing and McLean’s timing repeatedly challenge the audience’s expectations, drawing us in only to deflect us with a knowing wink. A dead woman in a hotel room – a familiar opening to any number of TV crime dramas. A female killer – less familiar. ‘It’s not what it looks like’, she insists and it isn’t, the ground shifting from under our feet as she spins her cover story. The show is a sophisticated deconstruction of gendered narratives of victimhood. Nonetheless, she is prepared to use the authorities’ preconceptions about her against them. McLean’s smooth-talking character manages to make her act of murder seem like a perverse feminist quest, to show that women can kill ‘for kicks’ as well as men. Maybe they’re just better at not getting caught.
As much as Ladykiller challenges paradigms of womanhood, I was uncomfortable about how it reinforces ideas of lesbian desire as ‘deviant’ (unfortunate word choice?!). The speaker recounts with glee how she got her female school sports teacher sacked and put on the sex offenders’ register for ‘being a pervert’ and uses a similar tactic to exculpate herself from murder. Whilst a psychopath is obviously not intended to be a reliable narrator, I found such sentiments harder to stomach than the relish with which she describes murder, perhaps because the latter is further from reality.
Nonetheless, Ladykiller is a surprisingly enjoyable fifty minutes, with a political bite beneath the surface of its humour.
Ladykiller is on at Pleasance Courtyard until 27th August, as part of the 2018 Edinburgh fringe. More info here.