By Ben Clark
‘What do you get if you put a baby in a blender?’ ‘A stiffy’.
This stripped-back production of Laura Wade’s ‘Breathing Corpses’ both did justice to its twisted humour and emphasised topical issues such as mental health and isolation. An odd combination, to be sure, but the play’s black comedy acts as a necessary relief from its discussion of heavy-hitting issues, and it would be easy for this gallows humour to get lost in translation. After all, this is certainly not light entertainment. Aside from dealing with some serious themes, ‘Breathing Corpses’ is reasonably long, and presents some difficult pacing issues.
The first scene, for example, features only one actor, and lasts in the region of fifteen minutes. It’s not easy to generate suspense and excitement under these conditions. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Helena Barker, who plays Amy, this production gets off to a bit of a slow start. The show gets into its stride with scenes that feature more actors on stage, before (it has to be said) tailing off slightly at the end. These issues with pacing are in part a function of the script and not the fault of the actors. Yet one wonders if incorporating more sound effects or music might have improved things.
That being said, for the majority of the play the actors kept us interested. The dialogue is snappy in the scenes featuring Will Bloor, Lily Britton and Lucas Walker. Britton and Walker bounce off each other well. I was particularly impressed by the way in which Walker changed entirely from a doting husband to a gibbering wreck over the course of the play. There was something very convincing about his portrayal of mental illness which I think was due to the way he used his body: flinching away from Britton when she tried to touch him, obsessively running his fingers through his hair and blowing his nose repeatedly.
Freddie Parsons and Isobel Clarke play a couple in an abusive relationship. Their intensity was very good, although the seesawing power dynamic felt a little strained at times. Sam Kwiatkowski plays a kind of Patrick Bateman-wannabe, a dangerous, slimy, rather awkward businessman who fancies Helena Barker’s character, Amy. It was an odd performance, not quite as threatening as it could have been, yet still reasonably effective.
On the whole the accents were pretty good, especially those of Walker, Britton and Bloor. Given the often cringe-inducing results of student thespians putting on accents this was a pleasant surprise.
Lighting was generally well done, although some of the scene changes did feel slightly awkward –it was not that dark so one could see the actors struggling to move things offstage. This was a minor issue though.
On balance, point of the play came across well – the idea that death has wide-reaching consequences, and that grief can unsettle even the most apparently stable of minds. For that reason, and because of the strength of some of the performances, I would recommend grabbing a ticket for ‘Breathing Corpses’. It’s certainly a thought-provoking watch.