theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall – Haldane Theatre
In Memoriam is produced by BossyB*tch Productions who style themselves as a feminist-leaning theatre company, with the tagline “Femme, Fiery, Thought-Provoking Theatre”, so I may have gone into this show with inappropriate expectations. What I found is a pretty standard farce, with some solid actors but unexciting, trad comedy: not radical in any way, but mildly amusing.
It’s the day of Graham Woodman’s funeral. In the living room of the family home the close family sit and wait for the hearse to arrive to take them to the cemetery. A black-draped box to the rear of the very small stage suggests a coffin.
Over the next hour we are introduced to several of Graham’s family members, the priest who is to perform the service and a surprise guest who turns up unexpectedly. It’s a bit like farce painting by numbers, as each of the roles is a stereotypical figure. Firstly we have Stephen (Charlie Cobb) and his wife Pauline (Iszy Rathband). Stephen is rather neurotic about the day, constantly checking if the hearse has arrived yet. Pauline is a standard, stuffy, middle-class wife, dressed demurely with a rather inappropriate fascinator for a glimpse of glamour. We also meet their fifteen year-old daughter played by Lula Jahangiri, who is rather ironically named Sonny (pronounced ‘sunny’). She leans to the dark side, as a goth with an interest in dead people. Soon Father Cuthbert the priest arrives: Connor Webster channels Rowan Atkinson, constantly twitching and making rubbery faces. There’s also Pauline’s more glamorous sister Fenola (Lucy Portalska), and the surprise guest is Simon Smith (Hector Price), a blast from the past apparently. Some revelations about each of the characters ensue that lead to some comic moments.
The cast are not without talent. Cobb as Stephen is particularly strong and rather wasted in this play: I’d look out for him elsewhere. Webster as Father Cuthbert is focussed and delivers well in comic moments, but he’s doing an imitation rather than creating a new character, so it’s hard to tell what he’s really capable of. The other cast members are perfectly solid, but really don’t have much to work with beneath their caricature roles.
There’s a fair amount of physical comedy, mostly from Webster, but on the whole the script is rather lacking in substance and the jokes are predictable or just a bit poor (I’m thinking here of the VIP scene). There are a few mysterious insinuations thrown in which could lead to something interesting, but they’re never followed up with real drama: Why do Stephen and Fenola swap knowing glances over a comment about three minutes last summer? What’s the connection between Sonny and Simon, such that she’s clinging to him?
One moment of sadness, when Stephen listens to his departed father’s voice on the answerphone could be massively poignant but somehow just misses in the midst of the formulaic farce. Perhaps if there was some subtle adjustment of lighting there’d be a sense of something different happening here? But there isn’t, and in fact there’s no interesting tech to speak of really.
The stage at the Haldane is very tiny and filled quite substantially with a suggested coffin and some chairs. The co-directors Lilly Butcher and Fiona Winning do a reasonable job of moving people round the space, and there are a few comic pranks to be had by hiding behind the coffin, but it generally feels really restricted, with actors flapping curtains as they enter and exit.
I really wanted to like this, looking forward to new writing and expecting some kind of radical feminist angle from BossyB*tch, but In Memoriam was too middle-aged in style and just not the show for me.
Written by Lucy Way and Fiona Winning
Co-directed by Lilly Butcher and Fiona Winning
Produced by BossyB*tch Productions
In Memoriam has completed its run at this year’s EdFringe.