So much that excites in theatre and cinema is ultimately down to the writing and Mark Thomson has mounted (and brilliantly directed) a show that is, in parts, written with such skill and sophistication, and humour, that it takes the breath away. However, at others it seems to go AWOL.
The first act of this new play, written by Jo Clifford, is very convincing, moving and utterly absorbing. It is staged imaginatively and it’s all going in the right direction. In act 2, however, the show seems to hit choppy creative waters as it steps up its ambition. But it left me, and my wife, confused.
It’s about death. Full frontal, no holds barred death. The great universal. If we all die let’s not pussyfoot about the issue, let’s just play it straight and that’s exactly how Clifford tackles the subject.
A 50 year old wife and mother suffers a massive stroke and dies soon thereafter. How it affects her nearest and dearest is one aspect of the show but the greater one (and a less often visited side of the equation) is how it affects the cadaver. And that makes for great theatre in act one as we build the back story (often hilariously) and reach the momento mori.
The cast is led by the peerless and stunning Kath Howden and ably supported by her “late” husband Jonathon Hackett and death himself in the guise of Liam Brennan. But they get most of the great lines and all of the power plays. Less satisfactory for me were the parts for the son and daughter and trickiest of all is the role in the play of the family matriarch, Howden’s mother, who is suffering from senility. Her part takes us down the most confusing plot alleyways and do not, in my view, always help the narrative. What I expected was to see Act 2 focus more on grief, instead it becomes more and more obtuse, before coming together in a satisfying climax.
The staging is magnificent. Philip Pinsky, yet again, pops in with musical magic. ( The point of death being captured in a single electrifying piano chord; once in each act.) And the whole is, overall, very satisfying. I just wish act 2 had a bit more narrative conviction and storytelling.
Should you go? You bet.