This dark play about confronting death introduces us to an array of fascinating characters: Amy, a hotel-cleaner, Jim and Elaine, and Ben and Kate, whose lives are linked by a series of morbid revelations. Written by the up-and-coming writer of Posh, Breathing Corpses is both a literary and a theatrical delight.
Although vague connections are made between death and sex, and death and power, and although they are poetically expressed, they are never wrapped up. We are teased with the scent of, but are never presented with, the fruits of Wade’s thought processes. Some may argue that this lack of affirmation is intentional and that it prefigures the mystery of death. It also perhaps prefigures the injustice of death, in the sense that, just as we feel we are beginning to understand ‘the bigger picture’, the action stops short and leaves us, metaphorically-speaking, hanging. However, there is already an absence of resolve in the play’s cleverly structured plot. It seems a shame that such interesting snippets of themes and ideas never fully blossom into any kind of philosophical theory.
The last scene is also troublesome. Without giving too much away I will say that, although we are made to empathise with and understand the previous events that take place in the play, this last one comes across as a lazy way to end. A character is introduced supposedly to wrap the whole thing up, but because he is stereotypical and one-dimensional, he ends up doing nothing of the sort. This character stands out like a sore thumb, perhaps because the others are so well-crafted.
What Laura Wade is exceptional at creating - as this production of Breathing Corpses has proved – is complex characters and situations for them to (ironically) come alive in. The characters split audiences and sympathies are constantly flickering between each of the figures on-stage.
Another reason for this is that the performances are terrific. Alex Appleby and Dan Hartley are superb at encapsulating the dark, awkward humour of the text. Thanks to Emma Killip’s sweet, fidgeting, and flustered rendition of Amy, we find her conversation with a corpse endearing rather than perturbing and her later scene painful to behold. Jim and Elaine are played with conviction by Sam Rix and Chloe Young. Young’s comfortably chatty demeanour is spot-on and Rix’s transformation is a somewhat exquisite spectacle. They make a very believable, very tender middle-aged couple and their relationship seems full of gentleness; on the other hand, Rosa Brook and Tom Chapman, as the young lovers Kate and Ben, bring a certain fieriness to the proceedings, in more ways than one. Their scene together takes place during a heat-wave and they enter - red-faced and sweating – on a stage blaring with overbearingly bright lights. There is no sweet talk, small talk, or pillow talk exchanged between the pair, just a of ferocity of language and movement that is thrilling to experience.
This is an interesting if slightly under-developed play, with several moments of linguistic brilliance. However, it is the acting that is truly breathtaking.