Breathing Corpses

Tue 19th – Sat 23rd January 2016

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 21:21 on 19th Jan 2016

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The title of Breathing Corpses is not a metaphor. This play, structured like a Russian doll of interlinking, macabre tales tied together by their common feature of sudden, almost always violent death, is satisfying as a crossword puzzle, and chilling as a good horror film It seemed almost to gently trick the audience into accepting the increasingly relentless blackness of its circular trajectory, flitting seamlessly between comfortable, everyday banality and spine-chilling horror.

The structure of the plot is intricate and works in a kind of backwards circle, its movement mapped by the backwards-ticking clock on the wall of the stage. This allows each interlocking scene to provide background, but no payoff (although more than one of them come uncomfortably close). The audience, who have already witnessed the next level of the story, are always left to complete the blanks. The clues as to what is really happening are in the characters' most banal and everyday decisions and details - the revelation that one of the characters has donned a rugby top becomes the chilling confirmation of something truly awful. The undeniable and dreadful violence of the plot is conveyed through deft use of seemingly incidental detail, and slick, clever dialogue. This subtlety is far from being a cop-out, it allows the play to get away with presenting stories and themes of incredible darkness, while escaping from the Hammer-film camp of having to directly and explicitly depict them.

The backward logic and before-and-after structure of the storyline provided the seven actors with the opportunity to depict evolving and changing characters. Each scene began light-heartedly (even when this seemed a quirky, or even inappropriate choice) presenting the characters ensconced in their everyday lives and everyday roles, before then confronting them with the visceral drama of the succesive deaths which form links between them. In some cases, this meant that characters transitioned from being endearing or even comic to being unsympathetic or tragic. In other cases, this allowed for dramatic exchanges of power between them. Laura Pujos was excellent as an initially scatterbrained housewife Elaine who eventually loses patience with her traumatised husband Jim (played by Marcus Martin). Helen Vella-Taylor and Josh McClure were tragic and unsettling as the very bad couple Kate and Ben. Isla Cowan as Amy and Rhodri Hughes as Ray provided the emotional centre of the play, depicting the most sympathetic and reliable characters with charm and warmth. Finally, Seth Kruger was twinkly and attractive enough as the enigmatic Charlie to make the ending of this play sit right between heartbreaking and shudder-inducingly chilling.

Breathing Corpses deserved a larger audience than it got for its opening night. It was well acted, subtly directed, and very cleverly written. If you're of a slightly twisted frame of mind, and are partial to the occasional baby-in-a-blender joke, then this play is definitely for you.

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