There's something about the twisted criminal mind that is unnerving yet terribly addictive. Alfred Hitchcock famously milked this morbid obsession with his slew of psychopathic thrillers. And so did Stray Factory last Saturday; why else would the audience battle rain and every-five-minute traffic jams on flooded streets, except to watch warped criminal minds at work? Besides cheering for a new ‘collaborative' theatre group's first production, that is.

Pick of the lot

Stray Factory, a recently conceptualised “network of actors, writers, artists and musicians” staged their debut production ‘Hitchcock' last weekend. The collection of three plays is from the 1950s hit TV series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, and even stylised and presented the same way with witty Freddy Koikaran playing the portly Mr. H. Admittedly though, it wasn't the pure horror of “Psycho” on stage; mostly light-veined Hitchcockian suspense that kept our bloodlust waiting for a while.

The evening opened with “The Right Kind of House”, about a scheming widow's trap to net her husband's killer. Directed by Mathivanan Rajendran, the plot is unfortunately ridden with characterisations that, from repeated abuse over the years, have now effectively become clichés (like the bored, nail-filing bimbo secretary to the over-eager real estate agent.) But it does pick up in the second half, with Mr. Bud White (Sharan) bringing the final scenes alive.

As ‘Freddy' Hitchcock pointed out, “Triggers in Leash” (directed by Vivek Hariharan) was a “Western, without the horses”. The story has two surprisingly well-dressed, gun-toting cowboys (Sandeep John and Rajiv Rajaram) stumbling over their accents and assorted furniture in an old-fashioned pub. Nisha Krithivasan as the pretty pub owner Mrs. ‘Maggie' Ryan is convincing at both the level-headedness and melodrama of her character. Again, not quintessential Hitchcock stuff but the knee-slapping comedy's climax explains why the two ‘goons' looked so uncomfortable with their guns.

The best though, was saved for the last. “The Motive” (directed jointly by Gitanjali Raman, Mathivanan and Vivek) was the psychotic murder we were all dying to watch. The neo-noir setting of committing the perfect motiveless killing reminded me of another Hitchcock classic, “Strangers on a Train”.

Mathivanan and Vivek as the thick friends Richard and Tommy were simply fantastic. The two definitely prove better actors. Vivek reprises his role as the cold-blooded killer from The Madras Players' recent “Witness to the Prosecution” with ease, while Mathivanan's cockiness keeps you guessing till the end. This performance is not to be missed.

Professional execution

For a debut production, Stray Factory has all the professional slickness of a seasoned group. They've used shadow play and projectors to wonderful and varied effect, from aiding story-telling to crediting the cast. Sets were functional and assisted further by smart lighting (off-cue a few times, but that's forgivable).

It made viewing less tiresome; significant, because others have faltered on this count before. And although initiated by friends, “aunties and uncles” and a close-knit theatre fraternity, Stray Factory fully deserved the standing ovation they received in the end. Hitchcock will be playing again this Sunday evening at Museum Theatre.

Tanya is a III Year B.Com. student at Stella Maris College.