Edinburgh Fringe drama inspired by real murder

Members of the cast of Rope at rehearsals
Members of the cast of Rope at rehearsals
Share this article
0
Have your say

IT WAS one of the most high profile murder cases of the nineties, which saw two public schoolboys jailed over the killing of a stranger after they convinced themselves they were on an SAS mission.

Now the case of former Gordonstoun pupil Jamie Petrolini and his accomplice, Richard Elsey, who plotted the killing as part of a bizarre initiation ceremony, is set to inspire a chilling new play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

I really wanted to explore whether a crime like this was plausible

Its writer said he had been fascinated by the true-life story of Petrolini and Elsey and how their doomed friendship led them to form a pact which changed their lives forever.

Petrolini, who was born and bred in Cromdale, in Speyside, and Elsey met while resitting their A-levels at a sixth form college in Oxford and quickly formed a close bond.

Within a year the pair, both 19, were convicted of murder of a total stranger at the Old Bailey in November 1994.

The court heard how Elsey had convinced Petrolini that he was an officer in the SAS and that his friend had to kill a random stranger.

Mohamed El-Sayed, a 44-year-old Egyptian chef and father-of-two, was attacked when his car stopped at a Give Way junction in Bayswater, west London.

At the time, police said the pair might never had been caught had Petrolini, who was celebrating his birthday on the day of the killing, not given a detailed confession a month after the crime.

Three years ago it emerged that Elsey had already been released from prison, while Petrolini had his murder conviction overturned on the grounds of diminished responsibility, and had a verdict of manslaughter imposed. However, he was ordered to be detailed in a secure hospital.

Petrolini’s legal team said new psychiatric evidence supported his defence at time of the trial that he was in the early stages of schizophrenia and had been influenced by his accomplice.

Somerset-based writer-director Geoff Hunt has formed a new theatre company, Step in the Dark, to create a modern-day story which draws a number of influences from the Petrolini and Elsey case.

Audiences will follow performers through one of the city’s most upmarket suburbs during the production, which revolves around the disappearance of a popular schoolboy and the taunting of his best friend by the killers.

The promenade-style performance will be staged in several locations in the Stockbridge area, which is said to provide the “perfect backdrop for an immaculate murder”. One of the city’s leading private schools, Edinburgh Academy, has even agreed to play host to part of the production, which will be set during the festival season in modern-day Edinburgh.

Hunt’s script also draws inspiration from the case of wealthy American college students Nathan Leopold and Rich­ard Loeb, who kidnapped and murdered a 14-year-old boy in 1920s Chicago.

Their crime was to inspire both a London-set play, first staged in 1929, and a classic Alfred Hitchcock film, released in 1948. They were both entitled Rope, which the Fringe show is also named after.

Hunt told Scotland on Sunday: “I loved the plot of Rope and the tension of the nerve of two college students who murder a classmate, put him in a trunk and invite his family to their apartment, where they all have a meal around his body.

“I like the whole premise of the perfect murder. The play is really not about who did it but whether they will get away with it.

“I really wanted to explore whether a crime like this was really plausible and was looking for real-life characters who might give clues as to how this type of crime could come about. That was when I came across the case of these two schoolboys in Britain.

“The interesting thing about them was that they seemed to have a fatal partnership which resulted in terrible tragedy. The play isn’t about what they did, but it does look at that kind of combination of two fateful characters, who are quite disturbed in different ways, but have a fatal clash.”

Rope is at the Fringe from 12-19 August.