It could be risky business doing a relatively sympathetic portrayal of Britain’s most hated woman. She may have been dead for nearly two decades, but Myra Hindley still inspires widespread revulsion and that picture – the dead-eyed mugshot – remains seared in collective cultural memory as the face of evil. Not everyone will think her fit for any sort of theatrical revision.
Myra, Lauren Varnfield’s self-penned solo piece is measured and sensitive. The keys to trying to find the humanity within her lie in two places – her relationship with Brady and her identity as a woman. Public reaction to Hindley was arguably all the more visceral because of her gender – men have violence within, but how could a woman do that to children? Varnfield tackles this by unveiling Hindley’s own longing for motherhood, and we sense that her instinct was bent fatally out of shape by Brady. She was his, she says. She wanted to be his. And anything became permissible because of it.
This is Myra in late life, in prison. A scene-setting video of newspaper headlines and video footage takes us through the decades from then to 2002 and shows just how the world changed in that time. Although we get a flashback to a happier Hindley, about to go on her first date with Brady, for the most part Varnfield looks haunted, worn out. It looks emotional to play, but Varnfield never over-eggs anything. She finds Myra, the woman beneath the killer. She is now pleading mitigation. She wants to be forgiven. She wants, at one particularly uneasy moment, to be listed among the victims of this senseless, horrific crime.
There’s a dramatic cost to Hindley self-analysing so honestly in front of us though. She explains herself and her motives very directly. It feels like we’re being led by her, rather than being presented with a portrait of a woman from which we can draw our own conclusion. At one point, she says, in effect, hate the sin, not the sinner. That may indeed be one message to take from the piece, but it loses something to have it spelled out too explicitly. There’s simply not enough context to judge her objectively, nor enough backstory to understand the hold Brady had on her. This is Myra as she wants to be, not how she is, and it’s an odd sensation to leave the room with neither renewed horror, nor true insight. Hindley remains inscrutable.