12th May 2022

Killing Mice review

By Hannah Goldswain

Starting with a piercing scream, the tone is well and truly set for Mark Heller’s Killing Mice, from the off. As darkness falls around St Luke’s Bombed-Out Church, the cast of three seize the eerie half-light and use it to full effect in this unsettling drama entwining a dark Victorian past with the modern day.

Summer (Rachael Wood) and Mabel (Jennie Crum) are best friends. So, when Summer presents Mabel with an old Victorian pram as a project for her newborn baby, Mabel is delighted. But when they discover that the pram belonged to a Victorian-era murderer, opinions are divided on keeping it. The pram is kept, but at what cost, as Mabel’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic? As Summer’s pregnancy continues the audience get a glimpse into the lives of the best friends and Summer’s husband Simon (Phil Hunter).

Witty and somewhat dry-humoured

Killing Mice is immediately witty and somewhat dry-humoured. Cracking-up at the fast-paced rapport between characters, the audience are lulled into an unexpected false sense of security. Between the three cast members the tension escalates steadily and unpredictably, gathering pace as long-held secrets are slowly revealed. Comic in the role of Summer, Wood adds a big helping of life to the play as it is slowly sucked out of the increasingly withdrawn Mabel. But, importantly, each character compliments the other as they fill the space in the Liverpool Theatre Festival marquee with ease.

The complex set only adds to the performance which commands the audience’s attention throughout the show, and whilst it could appear a little crowded amongst the kitchen, sofa, pram and curtained-off wooden frame, the cast work with fluidity, maintaining pace. Adding a new dynamic with Simon, Hunter plays an effortlessly entertaining character with his own surprising sting in the tail.

Killing Mice is well-written and arresting

Greeted initially by a softly haunting melody, the music throughout and in between scenes accelerates the lingering suspense and foreboding. If at times the breaks between scenes are slightly too long, the tale refuses to be hampered, and is kept on track by the pull of the cast members’ acting. Well-timed and directed lighting is crucially employed to keep the macabre mood and fuel the on-stage horror. There are fleeting moments at the height of the drama that feel a little contrived and perhaps overcooked. Although here, Crum comes into her own, delivering an excellently chilling performance.

Well-written and arresting, Killing Mice delivers a vividly unnerving drama which is infused throughout with slick comic relief. Clever twists keep the audience guessing, with an ending that does well to stray from the occasional predictability of dramas. The tension throughout is well-calculated and with sharp juxtaposition of comedy and darker scenes the audience is kept hooked. Crum, Wood and Hunter are excellent in bringing Heller’s hair-raising script to life.