The Manson family murder has intrigued people for decades, and a major factor is one simple question – why? Reading the facts of the case is almost counterproductive as the details of the matter simply do not make sense. Why would anybody devote their lives to someone who thought The Beatles were sending them hidden messages through their songs?
Helter Skelter focuses on Susan Atkins, one of the Manson family. We follow her as she hitchhikes to LA and comes across a charismatic and mysterious man named Charlie who lives in the desert with a bunch of people who feel as rejected by society as Susan does.
She is convinced to live on his ranch with the rest of his ‘family’, but as she gets drawn in further and further into Charlie’s cult, she finds herself capable of actions she would never have dreamt of committing.
Helter Skelter is a solidly written account of the most notorious cult in American history. As well as Manson and Susan, we meet Leslie van Houten and Sandra Good, who are convincingly wrought by the actors.
Mike Narouei stands out as Manson, who brilliantly captures the unnerving charm of a cult leader, and how effortlessly such a demeanour can switch to hostility and violence.
The issue with Helter Skelter is that though there is nothing wrong with the scenes themselves individually, as a whole the piece is less than the sum of its parts. The dramatic finale does not feel completely earned; though the play is ostensibly an exploration of how such a person could be manipulated to undertake such unspeakable acts, the jump from wary young girl to criminal psychopath seems a bit dramatic.
Helter Skelter feels almost like an unfinished first half of a play, but one that could be great in its entirety.