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First Night: Jerk

You might have seen a mention of puppets on the blurb and assumed that Dublin Fringe Festival's showcasing of Jerk was a Punch and Judy-esque affair.

Yet this isn't a show for the kids. Nor is it recommended viewing for anyone with a less than iron stomach and steely nerves. I'm all for taboo-breaking theatre, but I'm sorry to say that Jerk was a step too far for this middle-of-the-road mind.

The action is based on a true story, namely the mass murders which took places in Houston, Texas in the 1970s. At least 27 boys were killed at the hands of Dean Corll, who was assisted by young accomplices David Brooks and Wayne Henley. The chilling tale was later used as the basis for a novel by Dennis Cooper, who imagined that Brooks had developed a passion for puppetry while in prison and used it as a medium to recount the gory details of the crimes and his involvement in them.

This play, at the Cube in the Project Arts Centre, is a close adaptation, a collaboration between Dennis Cooper, director Gisele Vienne and Jonathan Capdevielle.

Entering a bleak auditorium, the audience meets the character, played by Capdevielle, who identifies himself as the psychotic, drug-addicted David Brooks. There isn't much time to get comfortable. We are presented with the first of two texts, which provide background. In each hand, Brooks holds a glove puppet, one representing the mastermind of the killings, Dean Corll, and the other his sidekick Wayne. On his lap lies the broken figure of Buddy, one of the 27 victims.

The audience plays the role of visiting psychology students, viewing the puppet show which Brooks uses to explain his part in the killings. In fact, it's a mark of the polarising effect of this play that two people walked out during the performance while others later gave it a standing ovation.

Throughout 55 minutes of gripping, if decidedly unpleasant, viewing, the audience is treated to a display of violence that would stagger even the most benign censor.

It begins as Dean further violates the corpse of Buddy, Brooks helpfully recounting with cacophonous squelching, groaning sounds.

This is where the real horror sets in as Jerk showcases the very worst of depravity. If you thought acts of necrophilia or masturbation on a stage would be less shocking when puppets are employed, you'd be mistaken. Throughout several, stomach-churning, uncomfortable minutes, this play indulges rather too vividly in descriptions of the grotesque, sparing nothing in an attempt to illustrate the sexual impetus behind Dean and Wayne's desire to kill.

It's all achieved with some impressive ventriloquism, but overall it seems like any exploration into the world of serial killers is abandoned in favour of unnecessarily lengthy horror scenes designed to cause maximum discomfort. So, if physical and sexual violence are your idea of an interesting night at the theatre, go along. Otherwise, steer clear.


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