BREATHING CORPSES
Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court, London SE1
Opened 28 February, 2005
****

What with Colder Than Here (just ended at Soho Theatre) and now this play, we can safely say Laura Wade has arrived as a major new playwriting talent.  Sheís not likely to be voted life and soul of the party: both plays deal, intimately and in detail, with death.  But itís not actually morbid. As this production (with a fine cast including Paul Copley and Tamzin Outhwaite) shows, sheís focusing on the living.

A hotel maid enters a room to make it up, to find its occupant has committed suicide. She chats distractedly to the body while she pulls herself together.  Time flows backwards: in the next scene the suicide is alive, and he is about to find a body. In Scene 3, that woman is alive and has just found a body.  Then it switches back to the aftermath of Jimís Scene 2 discovery, and finally to another encounter with Amy the maid.

The playís epigraph is the key to what itís really about: a line of Sophocles explains that a ďbreathing corpseĒ is someone who has lost all happiness.  What we see, then, is the various flavours of unhappiness before these people kill themselves or are killed.  Amyís life is empty; Jimís marriage and business are going nowhere; but itís the unhealthy pair of lovers in Scene 3 that are the fulcrum of the evening.

Tamzin Outhwaite is impressively fiery as the chronically furious Kate: she bellows curses at her Powerbook, kicks her boyfriendís dog half to death, and physically and mentally abuses him, sometimes without even recalling it.  Itís not a simple good-v-evil picture; you really feel that these two lovers are suffocating each other to death.  When physical violence occurs, it feels not shocking but oddly claustrophobic.

In Scene 4, Paul Copley is terrific as a man utterly devastated by his grisly find. It also contains some of Wadeís finest writing, which in its sparing way fleetingly touches greatness.  The final scene avoids any easy exits, offering a half-unreal scenario that suggests an unending cycle is at work.  Ian Dickinsonís beautifully realised sound design adds the final touches to an unsettling but riveting production.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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