The Brighton Trunk Murders: A Very Modern Tale.

The Brighton Trunk Murders are the stuff of legend. In Brighton, people still talk about the unrelated murders of two women whose remains were left in trunks in 1934. The crime involving the pregnant decapitated torso with ‘pretty feet’ was never solved. In the other case, Tony Mancini was acquitted of the murder of Violette Kaye, a 42 year old prostitute, before sensationally admitting to the murder in a tabloid some 40 years later.

Pub talk these days always ends with Mancini and how he got away with murder. But Stephen Plaice‘s play, ‘Trunks‘, currently showing at the Old Ship Hotel in Brighton, puts the spotlight firmly on the victims. ‘Pretty feet’ was killed to protect middleclass sensibilities. Vi is a tragic almost-heroine who dies in squalor, killed by a jealous, angry pimp.

Trunks

Sian Webber plays Vi with street sass, vulnerability, shabby sexiness and elicits sympathy as a prostitute with a taste for morphine and the high life. But it’s after death, addressing only Mancini (Gary Sefton), as she is crammed into a claustrophobic trunk and appealing to his troubled conscience, that she becomes powerful. She presides over his trial from beyond the grave, picking apart his fabricated defence.

Only the victims (including Richard Hawley‘s* hapless, hopeless ‘Hoppy’) are telling the truth. Mancini, the left-luggage man, ‘pretty feet’s’ lover, the policeman and Norman Birkett (who sensationally led Mancini’s defence) are all charlatans and liars. ‘Trunks‘ reminds us that bad things happen to good people.

The production, with an 18 strong cast setting the scene, is enjoyable, energetic and engaging but the story is sometimes hard to follow. The huge media interest, the ongoing mystery of the unsolved murder, Mancini’s acquittal by an all male jury and his future career as a funfair curiosity, is presented but not explicit.

The play’s immediacy is disquieting. A pimp murders a prostitute with a drug problem in a basement flat and he gets away with it. The glamour and glitz of ‘Trunks’ never detracts from a tragedy that could be happening in any city, right now, right next door.

* Dear lovely actors. I want to link to your own sites. I couldn’t find them.

(PS: I haven’t declared my interest in this sorry tale. Sorry. Here’s a clue: my paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Attrell. That will make sense to people who know about the murders. Filed under: a story for another time.)

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