Review: Pufferfish, VAULT Festival

Pufferfish is a complex, nuanced, deeply disturbing play about Jeffrey Dahmer and his crimes at the VAULT Festival

“Him…noticing me”

The necessities of quick get-ins and -outs at the VAULT Festival means that not unreasonably, many a show’s design has relied upon easily packable archive boxes. Clearly, Charlotte Espiner didn’t get the memo as her design for Pufferfish makes for hugely impressive impact on entrance to the Cage with its suspended marble effect torsos and plinth.

Nick Bruckman’s play (of which I was allowed to attend a preview) takes a riveting and spine-chilling fresh look at Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer responsible for the death and dismemberment of 17 young men in the 1980s. Pushing past lurid headlines, Pufferfish seeks to try and understand something of the man as well as the murderer, delving deep not only into his psychology but into that of his victims too.

To achieve this, Bruckman’s three-hander occupies a liminal space, a kind of purgatory where Arian Nik’s Chris roleplays through Dahmer’s victims, Asha Reid as his sister Anne fulfils the roles of their loved ones, watching on helplessly as they succumb variously to Jackson Milner’s all-too-ordinary Jeff. This way, we see the progression in Dahmer’s behaviour, the different traps he set to lure his victims in, the increasingly extreme – and distressing – things he then did to them and their bodies.

Bruckman never seeks to empathise with the serial killer, or glamourise him, Ng Choon Ping’s production rather looks to try and understand something about him, about the connections he was able to make with a parade of young gay men over the decade plus of his killing spree. Milner is eerily, creepily compelling in the depths of his depravity even while taking his Polaroid shots of the audience and Nik is achingly good as the succession of victims, too many of whom slipped through the cracks of a society learning just how homophobic it could be. Complex, nuanced, deeply disturbing work.

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
Pufferfish is booking at the VAULT Festival until 10th March

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