The Bad Seed, at the Jack Studio Theatre (review)

The Bad Seed is a play written in 1954 by American playwright Maxwell Anderson, based on the book of the same name by William March.  The Bad Seed has just finished a run at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre in a production by the Jack’s Associate Company Outfox Productions.

bad seed

The bad seed of the title refers to the 8-year-old girl Rhoda Penmark (Rebecca Rayne), who is seen in the first scene waving off ‘Daddikins’ as he goes on a trip out of town, leaving Rhoda at home with her mother Christine (Beth Eyre). It is immediately apparent that there is more to Rhoda than meets the eye: she is so well-mannered and well-turned out on the exterior, but we quickly see flashes of her temper. For instance when dealing with Leroy, the caretaker (Brian Merry), we witness Rhoda’s malevolent side when she blames Leroy for an accident, knowing full well that it was her fault, and that she will be believed and not him.

Christine Penmark is portrayed as an anxious, nervy woman who we notice visibly cringing about her daughter’s behaviour from early on. She is juxtaposed by the warm and comic neighbour and landlord Monica Breedlove (Jessica Hawksley) who can only see the good in the neat and pretty Rhoda.

Rhoda’s school has gone out on a school outing to have a picnic by the lake. Christine and Monica hear the news on the radio that a child is drowned and it turns out to be the same boy whose penmanship award has been so recently admired by Rhoda.  When Christine finds the penmanship award hidden in their home she is not slow to imagine that Rhoda could be linked to the death. We realise the full extent of Rhoda’s temperament when Leroy quizzes her on her return about why she didn’t feel sorry about the death of a school mate: “It was him got drowned, not me”.

It is only as we get into the heart of the play that we realise that there is perhaps another bad seed in the play.  Christine has had a recurring dream that she was adopted. She finds out that the dream is real and, further, that her biological mother was a killer.  As it becomes clear what Rhoda has done, and as further ‘accidents’ start to happen, Christine decides to takes matters into her own hands.

Rebecca Rayne totally steals the show as Rhoda. She turns from sweet to malicious in a second and her evil power is terrifying. She delivers every line in a perfect Southern American accent, and you would not wish to be left alone in a room with her.  I also enjoyed the quieter voiced Beth Eyre as her mother, in fact the women excelled in The Bad Seed overall, as Jessica Hawksley is very natural as Monica Breedlove and provides some very genuine laughs in an otherwise tense storyline.  I also found Brian Merry as Leroy very convincing. There are a few weaknesses – one of them is down to the original content of the play, which is rather old-fashioned in its views of nature and nurture and the discussions around this are overly long-winded. The other one is that a few accents are a bit hit-and-miss, which becomes distracting.

This production by Outfox Productions of The Bad Seed is gripping throughout and full credit goes to the cast and creative team.  There are strong performances and a good set design, but it is Rebecca Rayne’s chilling depiction of a young psychopath which gives this production its edge.

hattydaze rating: ***/*****

I attended The Bad Seed on a press ticket.  The Bad Seed played until 1st April 2017 at the Jack Studio Theatre.  Keep up with Outfox Productions via their website.

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