The Space UK

Corpsing

07/12/21

the SpaceUK Triplex, Hill Place, Edinburgh

Well, it’s been a long time coming, but live theatre is back, and – here at Bouquets & Brickbats – we feel as though all our Christmases have come at once (and, by Christmas, we mean the usual, fun-filled occasion, not the travesty of last year’s non-festive damp squib). And what better way to start than with Edinburgh-based Red Rabbit Theatre’s Corpsing, a new comedy-drama by Callum Ferguson and Lewis Lauder?

It tells the tale of Elliot (Dillon MacDonald), a recent graduate of Imperial College, London, armed with a degree in business studies and a newly-inherited funeral parlour. Elliot only ever met his grandfather once, so he’s not exactly overcome with emotion to learn that the old man is dead; instead, he’s keen to grasp the opportunity to run his own company, and put his theoretical knowledge into practice. Unfortunately for Elliot, his grandfather’s assistant, Charlie (Lewis Gemmell), soon lets slip that things haven’t always been done exactly by the book… and a trawl through a pile of unopened letters reveals another surprise: an auditor is arriving. Tomorrow.

What ensues is a playful three-hander, with dead bodies and misunderstandings a-plenty. The auditor, Fiona (Anya Burrows), is disarmingly friendly, but her inane chatter and frequent giggles mask a steely nature. How will Elliot and Charlie keep their business afloat?

There is a lot to like about this play. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in places, and the three actors work well together; despite being heightened for comic effect, their characters are all believable as well as distinctive. Gemmell clearly revels in the role of funnyman, but MacDonald and Burrows make great stooges; this is clearly a real team piece.

Okay, so I do have a few quibbles. The script sags a little at times: the conversation between Elliot and Charlie about the pros and cons of euthanasia, while interesting, outstays its welcome, and there’s perhaps too much exposition in the final scene. And it has to be said, there are a few plot-holes – why does Charlie need to wrap corpses in bin-bags, for example, and drag them to the premises? Aren’t there coffins and hearses here? There’s also more stage traffic than there needs to be: the set changes are unnecessarily complicated (why waste time swapping two very similar tables, when one would work just fine?), and I find myself irked by the empty file that’s supposedly ‘full of documents’ and the plastic water bottle labelled ‘champagne.’ Of course, I don’t expect expensive props in a Fringe piece, but these do feel a bit school-play, which is a shame, when the piece is – in general – rather good.

If you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted and engaging way to spend an hour – in a room with real people watching a real performance in real time – then you could do a lot worse than this.

3.4 stars

Susan Singfield

Hillary’s Kitchen

Hillary's Kitchen

21/08/18

The Space @ Surgeons’ Hall, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh

Hillary’s Kitchen sounds promising: following the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton wakes up with a hangover, surprised to find a group of women in her kitchen. And not just any women either, these are women of historical significance: Virginia Woolf, Eve, Dido, Frida Kahlo and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Knocking back the Chardonnay, they share their stories, with the aim of helping Hillary, to give her strength to carry on.

The intent is clear: a kind of Top Girls for the modern age, a fourth-wave feminist version of Caryl Churchill’s second-wave hit play. But it lacks the sophistication of Churchill’s earlier piece: the political depth just isn’t there, and neither is the clever dialogue. It’s a laudable ambition, but it seems the playwright has bitten off more than she’s quite ready to chew. It’s a shame. But any audience drawn in by this particular premise is likely to be demanding: it’s clearly marketed as a topical satire, referencing world news, art and literature – people buying tickets are going to be clued-up about this stuff. They’ll be expecting a level of insight and wisdom that sadly isn’t here.

The cast is huge and I can’t work out why; I can’t see any benefit to this. Why not double up more roles, like Churchill does, making connections between the historical figures and their modern domestic counterparts? The stage feels cluttered with people and props, and the constant entering and exiting through the backdrop is a definite mistake, especially when the curtain flaps open to reveal the backstage area, all lit up and chaotic.

Let’s be clear, there are some decent actors on this stage, doing their best with what they’ve got. The woman playing Virginia Woolf, for example, is particularly strong, as is the drunken Hillary Clinton. Their initial conversation is a highlight of the piece. There are some good performances in the over-long ‘Prince Charming’s job application’ section too, but too many weak jokes to call the scene an overall success. In fact, most of those on stage are clearly capable performers; sadly, this piece does not allow them to show what they can do.

Look, I can’t pretend this works; it doesn’t. A good third of the audience walks out before the show is halfway through. (Which is, actually, indefensible I think – shockingly rude and disruptive, with no thought for how the performers are supposed to soldier on. It’s live: they can see you. Where are your manners, people? It’s only an hour. If you don’t like it, tough luck. You took a punt and it didn’t work out. Stay in your seats and be polite.)

The Fringe is a place to try stuff out; sometimes it flies and sometimes it doesn’t quite take off. But that’s the point, surely – there has to be room to experiment, to learn. Next time, maybe?

2 stars

Susan Singfield