Bible John, VAULT Festival

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by Grace Bouchard

You know these women, the four office temps sitting at a shared desk. Unnamed and anonymous, they go about their days inputting data into spreadsheets, quietly offering cups of tea to those who might like one. They don’t give too much of themselves away to anyone around them. It is the nature of their job to be useful and to fade into the background.

Performers Renee Bailey, Carla Garratt, Caitlin McEwan, and Louise Waller each pick up a microphone. Into them, they share the first clues to who these temps are, their eccentricities and mannerisms. However specific they may at first seem, the character files are broad enough for us to fill in the gaps ourselves, as at the end of each description we are reminded: “You know this woman.” Or at least, we all know someone like her.

These women have a secret. They are bound by their love of true crime and in particular, a podcast aiming to solve the case of 1960’s Scottish serial killer Bible John. What begins as morbid curiosity soon spirals and trips them into full-blown obsessions leading them down a rabbit hole. As they hypothesise together with fellow listeners across the globe, they become almost maniacal with a twisted satisfaction whenever a new episode and clues are released.

Company THESE GIRLS have deftly created a piece which serves as a case file for the messy complexities within womxn’s relationship to violence, specifically violence by cis men towards womxn. Though it is at points difficult to watch, moments of real humour and lightness show they’ve succeeded in being complicit with the very podcast genre they examine, making entertainment out of true crime. Energetic and impassioned performances from all four women are supported by Laurie Ogden’s movement direction which brings a tense momentum to the piece. However, some points feel like it runs away from them and is out of their control. Lizzie Manwaring’s direction is bold and assured, guiding the ensemble to move in and out of narrative storylines and direct address with ease. Occasionally when addressing the audience whilst speaking into their microphones, it feels as though we are being helped to understand the bigger picture. One of Caitlin McEwan’s lines is particularly poignant and resonant:

“Have you tried making nuanced arguments when you’re this angry? Because it’s actually quite hard.”

There is no easy or linear way to explore the multitudes of nuance that THESE GIRLS cover in Bible John. The heart of it is so raw and furious, that the slightly chaotic way in which it sometimes fits together works. It is as though we are looking at a wall of evidence in an investigation room, with pieces of string connecting moments together. Both the case of Bible John and womxn’s relationship to violence in 2020 are complex and un-resolvable, but THESE GIRLS have presented both beautifully.

Bible John runs through 16 February.

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