The grim reaper stalked the stage in various guises last week. In Leeds, And All The Children Cried is an investigative drama about women who - against all nurturing instincts - commit infanticide. In a jointly signed programme note, the high-profile sociologist Beatrix Campbell and her co-writer Judith Jones, a social worker, declare that their aim in this (their first) play has been, "to discover whether themes which in their experience seemed untellable and unwatchable could be tolerated as theatre." That sounds fearlessly pioneering and the piece promises revelations about the psyche of such characters and their possibly formative unhappy childhoods. You might be additionally intrigued because the director is Annie Castledine who, with the playwright Bryony Lavery, grippingly adapted Goliath, Campbell's book about Britain's 1991 inner-city riots.
Here, we find ourselves in jail with Myra (based on Hindley) and Gail, who talks of having smothered her offspring. Both are preparing to plead before a parole board. We see each rehearsing her presentation, then the pair form a brief, hesitant friendship while waiting to hear if they'll be released.
Sharon Maughan's Myra appears cool, smart, tidy, super- controlled - like some corporate career woman. She gives little away, is expressionless. Gill Wright's Gail, meanwhile, comes across as a dowdy, hunched emotional mess from a deprived background. She hears voices from her abused childhood, has manic fits, is more confessional. She seems like a hysterical little girl attracted to Myra's tower of strength.
The trouble is that this dramatisation - without Lavery on board - feels awkward. The obvious contrasts between our protagonists seem theatrically exaggerated when you really want documentary-style accuracy. In one flashback to her trial, with a melodramatic voice- over by a crushing male lawyer, Wright's Gail stands on a chair, knees buckling like an embarrassing cartoon of terror.
Elsewhere, speeches sound like authentic criminals' and analysts' statements, only they're forced unnaturally into a Myra-Gail dialogue. But there are successfully stylised and complex moments. Wright is disturbingly amusing and aggressive dancing like a jubilant kid to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive". But Maughan's Myra is wearisomely cold and remains a largely blank mask. So much for the untellable. Euripides wrote a far more searing, searching tragedy about a child-killer - Medea - over 2,000 years ago.
We move on to genocide, or rather to those who've narrowly escaped it, in The Lucky Ones. Charlotte Eilenberg's commendable first play opens in a London garden in 1968. Margot Leicester's homely Anna Mosenthal is preparing an alfresco lunch. Her husband, David Horovitch's Bruno, lies on the picnic rug, humorously grousing about his adolescent daughter. But when their old friends, Leo and Ottilie - also survivors of the Holocaust - arrive, mixing business, pleasure and memories creates tension.
Anton Lesser's wiry Leo is eager to sell their shared New Forest cottage to a Mrs Lisa Pendry for an inflated price. He has none of Anna's nostalgia for the place nor any of Bruno's scruples. But after Kelly Hunter's Lisa turns out to be a fellow ex-Berliner whose father may have profited from buying Leo's erstwhile Jewish family business, Lesser proves the one with the fiercest sense of right and past wrongs.
This piece is well structured with droll scenes invaded by aggression. At times it's too schematic and Leo's insistence on a sale-clinching apology for all Nazi era crimes seems a strained domestic parallel for state-level debates. …