Why did four Austrian nurses murder nearly 200 of their patients in the late 1980s?
Jessica Ross attempts to solve this riddle in her new play about the true-life crimes of Austria’s ‘death angels.’
Drowning begins with four white bathtubs positioned facing the audience. Eighties music blares from hidden speakers. As explained in an opening voiceover, the play is a speculative fictional portrayal of the four women and what might have led them to kill.
Some might be troubled by the highly fictionalised nature of the story being told, as the real women have never revealed their motives. Witnesses at the time of the murders were reminded of Nazi atrocities from less than fifty years before and this production feels reminiscent of Jesús Franco’s 1980s exploitation filmography. However, Ross appears to direct our attention to a more interesting story than a tale of girls gone wild; one that asks what happens when women choose to stop caring for others.
Each of the four women is given an opportunity to examine the reasons for her behaviour. Is it an attempt to work through trauma or abuse? Or are they trapped and unfulfilled by the traditional roles society expects them to play?
The play does not provide any easy answers and is not always an easy watch; there are frank discussions of their crimes and other heavy topics. Fortunately, Ross has packed her story with enough humour to ensure audiences are engaged but not weighed down by the events described.
The only criticism of an otherwise well-written and well-produced show would be that the ending felt a little rushed in comparison to the long build-up given to the murders. Audiences may also find themselves frustrated by the lack of definitive answers.
As the work is speculative, the four actors portraying the women are given an almost blank slate from which to work. What emerges is a picture of four friends, bonded by their trauma and their belief in their “work.”
These women have four distinct, well-rounded and well-realised characters which challenge our idea of why we expect women to care.
Venue: Pleasance Courtyard
Dates: 9 – 26 Aug (not 13th)
Tickets: £12.00 adults | £11.00 concessions
Bookings: Here | Pleasance Box Offices | 0131 556 6550