By Zara Stubbs
Laura Wade’s Breathing Corpses opens in a hotel room, where a body is found tucked inside the bed. With the entrance of Amy, played by Jessy Roberts, the black humour that permeates the play is dramatically unveiled. Yet, the combination of a fantastic script and talented actors ensured a genuine thread of emotional vitality underpinned every interaction.
The narrative then swings backwards, its non-linear structure excellently managed as multiple strands intertwine without fault. We begin to learn the story of Jim, who Caidraic Heffernan plays with stunning emotional intelligence. As set design had to balance multiple different locations, changes of scene were marked through transitions to foreground with different structures and props, signalling the diversion to a specific strand of the story. Ashleigh Thompson’s set design was very well handled, with impressive use of spaces which were clean, bleak yet understated, and immediately recognisable as a new space once transitions were complete.
There are many parallels within the play that are achieved with subtlety and sophistication. The ‘empty box’ Keira MacAlister’s Elaine feels she is left in after her children leave the nest is ominously recalled in later scenes. The first act, with Elaine and Ray (Mark Ellis) offering comedic relief, allows the shock of the initial scene to be absorbed; yet the comedy is not simple. It allows for a realistic portrait of complex people. (I note the use of people, not characters, as I think that would suggest caricatures, which when deftly handled by a very mature cast is far from the truth).
The slow process of the humour evolving into severity echoes the burning of the matches pictured in DramaSoc’s promotional pieces by press officer Bertie Tucker Hough, and are elegantly scattered across the staging.
A powerful scene is our introduction to Ben (Jacob Seldon) and Kate (Abby Coppard), where we are invited into the unnerving interior of their relationship. It is impossible to discuss this scene without crediting the fantastic use of makeup, which was so realistic and brought an extra visual dimension to an already remarkable scene.
All of the separate narratives are slowly spiralling downwards throughout the play, and the depiction of potentially triggering themes is startlingly truthful and palpably alive. The final scene is telling of the production’s professionalism, pooling together the narrative absences into a beautiful composition of parallels as each character stands on stage.
Breathing Corpses investigates what happens when we open a door and cannot quite figure out how to gain closure from what we’ve found behind it, which the production team echoed with outstanding sincerity and emotion. Breathing Corpses is running from Friday 1 February and closing on Sunday 3 February. Tickets can be purchased on the YUSU website, or at the door of the event. A full list of trigger warnings can be found at the entrance to the Drama Barn.