Caitlin McEwan’s play Bible John centres around a Glasgow-based serial killer in the 1960s and has recently enjoyed a run in Edinburgh and London. I caught up with Caitlin to find out more.
Can you tell me more about the production?
Bible John explores the morbid fascination that many people, and predominantly women, have with true crime, and the ethical implications of deriving entertainment from something which has the victimisation of women at its heart. It does this by centring a real, unsolved series of murders that occurred at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow in the late 1960s, perpetrated by an Old Testament-quoting serial killer nicknamed Bible John by the media. It’s a furious, riotous, and hopefully uplifting exploration of gender, violence, and victimhood, created by an all-female cast and creative team.
Where did inspiration for the play come from?
From a young age, I’ve had a strange fascination of true crime, which I’ve always felt a bit uneasy about. The recent spate of true crime documentaries and podcasts has meant that there is more true crime content than ever, but also the popularity of things like Serial has meant that many people (mainly women) who I’ve known for a long time have revealed themselves as true crime fans. It made me think about the reasons why so many friends had kept their obsession secret, whether there was any shame or stigma attached to being a fan of true crime, and to what extent that was justified. The Bible John case is one that’s always been in my consciousness, as I grew up in Edinburgh and have lots of family friends who were around Glasgow in the late 60s and remember the climate of fear and paranoia. But I also wanted to dramatise the case because the victims had all gone to the Barrowland dancehall on the night of their murder; there’s something about the freedom and liberation of dancing and letting go, juxtaposed with the entrapment many women feel when they’re doing something as simple as walking home at night, that I wanted to explore in the piece.
Why do you think it’s important to tell this story now?
True crime occupies a huge space in popular culture at the moment, but there doesn’t seem to be many voices questioning the roots of women’s true crime fascination, and where the line between curiosity and voyeurism lies. I also think that although, thankfully, there are fewer active serial killers than there were fifty years ago, women are still victimised (some, of course, more than others). Many women we interviewed in our research for the show said they listened to true crime podcasts as a means of self-protection; if they knew the worst case scenario of what could happen to them, maybe they could stop it from happening to them. That’s horrifying, and I think is reason enough for the show to exist, and be important.
What can audiences expect?
It’s a bit of a howl of a show; as a company, we’ve all poured a lot of heart and anger into it, so it’s very personal to all of us. It’s anarchic, a little bit strange, and although the subject matter is dark, there are moments of lightness, and a lot of dancing.
How has the production developed since it was performed at the Fringe?
I wrote the play and was one of the performers, so Edinburgh was a really interesting experience; I always had one eye on the audience, gauging what they reacted to and whether the structure of the piece was having the desired effect. Edinburgh was Bible John’s first outing and we always knew we wanted to make changes to the production once the festival was over, both to the script and to the technical elements, as sound and video design feature heavily in the show. I think audiences who saw the show in Edinburgh can expect a bigger, better version of Bible John, which asks the same key questions as the original production in a bolder and clearer way.
What do you hope audiences take away from the production?
I would like true crime fans to think about their relationship to the podcasts and documentaries they consume, and the reasons they’re so fascinated by these stories. But although the play is called Bible John, it’s not about the anonymous male serial killer; I think deifying those figures is really dangerous. The show ends with the names of the three women who lost their lives, and more than anything else, I’d like the audience to remember them.