Where do letters and parcels go, when – because of an incomplete address, or lack of forwarding address – they can’t be delivered? According to Catherine Expósito and Marli Siu, at least some end up being stored in the titular Dead Letter Office located on a remote, difficult-to-reach Scottish island, where James (with a layered performance from Blair Kincaid) has come in search of a letter sent by his mother.
With suitably atmospheric sound design by Craig Black and simple, yet emotive music by Kirsty Findlay, this production by director Ian Dunn doesn’t push its main idea too far.
There are complications, though, as we learn. Charting the story behind the letter, originally sent some 24 years previously, the play uses a cast of colourful characters to tell the tale.
There’s Emily (sympathetically played by co-writer Expósito), a rather flakey party-girl who’s madly in love with her letter-writing, soldier-boy Connor; and wannabe journalist Joanna (a feisty Kirsty Findlay), constantly leaving herself notes on her old-style dictaphone. Who these people are, and how they’re suddenly in this remote location is at the heart of this play, which effectively enough surrounds a pretty fantastical idea with an air of realism.
The writers do offer some clues early on, not least by using period details to highlight discrepancies in settings, but in such a way that rather shakes our faith in James – who seems slower than most when it comes to working out what’s going on. There are also several flashbacks which, while adding some character background, don’t advance the story to any worthwhile degree – beyond giving some of the cast an opportunity to flex their acting muscles with another, very broadly painted, role.
With suitably atmospheric sound design by Craig Black and simple, yet emotive music by Kirsty Findlay, this production by director Ian Dunn doesn’t push its main idea too far; indeed, it rather underplays it too far, robbing us of a sufficient sense of wonder at its potential. Instead, the whole story is played with both feet firmly on the ground.
In addition, there’s one final twist, which does feel rather unnecessary, given the show’s earlier focus on telling James’s character arc. So while The Dead Letter Office is an interesting story which holds your attention, it doesn’t quite feel focused enough to make a real impact.