Never the Sinner

The Playhouse, 31 Albany Street, Dunedin North, Dunedin

02/06/2017 - 10/06/2017

Production Details

Never the Sinner is set in 1924 Chicago where two rich and highly-intelligent boys plan to commit the perfect crime and proceed to kill 14-year-old Bobby Franks for kicks. Society condemns the boys and demands their hanging, but humanitarian defence lawyer, Clarence Darrow, pleads with us, as the judge, that we should condemn the sin, but Never the Sinner. Are we able to do so?

A moving and challenging work exploring social attitudes and mores, this play is, as described by the playwright, “also a love story” set to themes of crime and punishment, the press, the times, humanism, Nietzsche’s philosophy and the end of the jazz age.


NATHAN LEOPOLD                         DYLAN SHIELD

RICHARD LOEB                             DAMON LILLIS


ROBERT CROWE                             THOMAS MAKINSON


REPORTER 2 /DR HULBERT                JANICE SNOWDEN            



DR WHITE                                      NIGEL ENSOR         



DIRECTOR                                      LEWIS ABLETT-KERR


STAGE MANAGER                              JILL MOORE

SCRIPT CONTROL                             IMOGEN DUNCAN

SET DESIGN                                    LEWIS ABLETT-KERR

PROPS                                           JILL MOORE, LEWIS ABLETT-KERR, REBECCA GLOVER

COSTUMES                                      JUDITH ABLETT-KERR, JILL MOORE, SHARON YOUNG

LIGHTING DESIGN                            REBECCA HENDERSON

SOUND DESIGN                                DYLAN SHIELD


PUBLICITY                                       JEMMA ADAMS, CHRISTINE COLBERT, DAMON LILLIS

PHOTOGRAPHY                                PAUL METREYEON

ARTWORK                                      JANE KERR, KEN GORRIE

CHOREOGRAPHER                            NICK TIPA

CONSULTANT                                  JUDITH ABLETT-KERR


Theatre ,

Powerful, chilling production not to be missed

Review by Barbara Frame 06th Jun 2017

A true story: in Chicago, in 1924, college students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, fuelled by mutual passion and Nietzschean delusions, commit a ghastly crime to see what it feels like. It turns out that they are not quite smart enough to elude detection. While top defence attorney Clarence Darrow works to save them from the gallows, they confound the press and the public with their smirking, self-congratulatory delight in their own notoriety.

With Never the Sinner, by John Logan, director Lewis Ablett-Kerr achieves the high standard set by his previous productions. This one has a stylish, almost monochromatic appearance, thanks to Ablett-Kerr’s versatile set design, costumes by Judith Ablett-Kerr, Jill Moore and Sharon Young, and highly effective lighting design by Rebecca Henderson. Dylan Shield’s sound design, reminiscent of movie and radio dramas, adds to the filmic atmosphere created by the play’s frequent scene and mood shifts.

The two lead characters are unsympathetic, believing themselves insulated by brains, wealth, privilege and slick panache. Leopold is the colder and more calculating of the pair; Loeb more narcissistic and amoral. Dylan Shield and Damon Lillis admirably meet the challenge of simultaneously charming and repelling the audience.

They are excellently supported by Joseph Cecchi as Darrow, and Thomas Makinson, Paul Metreyeon, Janice Snowden, Travis Oudhoff and Maegan Stedman-Ashford. Special mention must be made of Nigel Ensor, always outstanding in cameo roles, as the doctor called in to assess they young men’s sanity. American accents are well sustained throughout.

It’s clear all along that Leopold and Loeb are guilty, and the courtroom scenes are mostly concerned with their sentencing. The audience is likely to go home pondering the timeless themes of entitlement, the nature of evil and the morality of the death penalty.

This is a powerful, chilling production, and I recommend it. The season will run until Saturday 10 June.


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A sophisticated examination of love and criminality

Review by Emer Lyons 03rd Jun 2017

Never the Sinner is based on the true story of the murder of 14-year old Bobby Franks by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in Chicago in 1924. As übermensch or Supermen, the millionaire pair live in an egocentric, hedonistic universe; they are bored, aimless, blasé with apathy, caring for nothing but their own exaggerated notions of themselves as apart from the rest of the world. The play pleads with the judge (the audience) throughout, to question justice and the criminality of love.

It’s incredible that we can feel any empathy towards these two young men who plotted and committed a murder as “a philosophical experiment”. But the faultless performance of both Dylan Shield and Damon Lillis, who play Leopold and Loeb respectively, ensures that we are drawn into their shrouded realm of darkness where murder, capital punishment and life sentences are just unimportant consequences of love. Both actors are enchanting and perfectly cast by director Lewis Ablett-Kerr. 

Other highlights to an all-around excellent cast include Thomas Makinson, who battles for capital punishment as state attorney Robert Crowe against the mockery being made of justice by Loeb and Leopold. He plays the ambitious Crowe with dignity and composure. And Joseph Cecchi, who embodies Clarence Darrow’s strive for humanitarian justice with a cultivated charisma.

In his introduction to the script, playwright John Logan says: “To say that Leopold and Loeb were ‘monsters’ is too easy. To say that they were ‘evil’ is too facile. I find Darrow’s tact more relevant. Leopold and Loeb were human beings. Just like the rest of us. They were tormented. They were brutal. They lacked any true moral, ethical compass. They could not find their way in our sunlit world, so they embraced the darkness. In that darkness, they had only each other.”

The play is segmented in brief scenes that skip between the trial and the developing relationship between the two young men, which results in the crime. The scenes are intercut with reporters and newspaper accounts that hints at the media circus that enveloped the case. The simple set works at ease with the actors as we oscillate between place and time. The media barrage brings the play into the present where hysterical fangirls, media-cultivated realms of reality and senseless acts of violence are ubiquitous.

Never the Sinner is provocative in its subject matter and shows how human beings react differently when the baseline of what is acceptable shifts around them. It’s a sophisticated examination of love and criminality.


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