True crime stories have become the basis of much modern entertainment – despite being based on gruesome, disturbing real-life cases.
Now the growing public fascination with murder accounts and police investigations is set to come under the spotlight in a major new Scottish stage show.
Rob Drummond, one of the country’s leading new theatre-makers, has revealed plans to turn his own “addiction” to the genre into an Edinburgh Festival Fringe show this summer.
It will explore what is behind “the grotesque interest in death and destruction” fuelling the popularity of the likes of Netflix series Making A Murderer and the hit podcast Serial by challenging the shows’ audiences to turn detective themselves.
Who Killed Katie? directed by Orla O’Loughlin, a former artistic director of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, will see Drummond pose difficult questions about why people are drawn to find out more about cases they should be “repulsed” by.
The show will draw on real-life cases to explore why the knowledge that a horrible murder actually happened increases the level of fascination in it as a form of entertainment.
Drummond said: “There’s something extra special about knowing that a true crime story is real that seems to have a really hooky effect on an audience.
“It’s something I explore a lot in my work – the line between fact and fiction and what that does to the way you experience a story.
“We seem to be in an age where truth is a valued commodity. Science is cool. Politics is hot. And true crime is in vogue. Maybe we’re desperate for true stories because at a time when truth is being squeezed and compromised, it’s nice to try to grab on to something real.”
Drummond will be examining the true crime stories phenomenon following previous shows which have seen him learn magic to re-stage a bullet-catch trick, turn matchmaker with audience members brought on stage for a blind date which he hosted, and train up as a professional wrestler.
“True crime stories have always existed – it’s just that recently they seem to be being presented as high rather than low art,” said Drummond. “There’s an attempt now to make such a sordid idea as entertainment in other people’s misery seem noble. It’s for a cause, it’s seeking justice, and therefore is okay. And I can buy into that, but only up to a point.
“The bottom line is we get enjoyment out of watching stories about people being horribly tortured, raped, murdered. I’m not here to judge that – at least not too harshly – I just find it interesting more than anything else.
“My own addiction to the true crime genre drove the impulse to create this show. I understand exactly why I should be repulsed by it, but, like so many, the opposite thing happens.
“That desire to look into the abyss and have it look back into you seems fundamental to what it means to be a human being.”
Indeed Drummond, believes this ghoulish fascination may serve a long-term purpose.
“We’ve gotten to this point in our evolution as a result of this grotesque interest in death and destruction, not despite it. It’s healthy to be interested in darkness because if you don’t study things that can harm you, you’re more likely to be harmed.”
NTS says Who Killed Katie? will involve “detailed reconstruction, court transcripts, witness statements and interviews” from a gruesome crime which took place in Scotland in December 2015. It will ask the audience to reinvestigate this tragedy. It states: “The case that has perplexed police for years may very well be cracked at last.”
Drummond said: “The show is based on the truth, that’s the best way I can think to describe it.”