Review: Marvin’s Room

Marvin’s Room makes for a moving and enjoyable evening but doesn’t quite hit the spot for LOTTIE UNWIN.

Cancer Corpus Marrow Marvin's Room Playroom Theatre

Marvin’s Room, Corpus Playrooms, Directed by Ellie Awford, 17th-21st November


The plot of ‘Marvin’s Room’ is like a Christmas Round Robin letter you really don’t want to receive, one so morbid and desperate that the final note, that ‘the whole family are hoping next year will be better’ doesn’t leave you with much confidence it will. Absolutely everything has gone wrong for central character Bessie and her luck doesn’t improve much when her estranged sister and her two sons come to Florida from Ohio to be tested as bone marrow donors. Remarkably, her story makes for a fairly enjoyable evening. 

The first act was brilliant, though my phobia of needles left me feeling really queasy and hiding behind my programme at all the talk of blood and marrow samples.   However, the play seemed to loose its hold on me as time went on – the last line before the many blackouts never seeming to pack enough punch, the task of re-engaging the audience when the lights went up was made impossibly tough.   The standard of acting was really high all round, with only minor complaints. Though Kiran Milwood Hargrave’s performance was good, her tranquil tone of a nature programme narrator irritatingly underplayed how full her plate was with leukaemia, a dying father and mad aunt.  If the intention was a symbolic comparison of Ohio to England with Katie Alcock’s accent, it didn’t work out, and let down the role.  Sometimes I struggled to take seriously, James Barwise’s stereotypical geek ‘Charlie’, who verged on terrifying (no holding back with his ‘Science is Magic’ t-shirt and pulled up stripy socks) and Luca Krsljanin’s ‘Hank’, the brother in the mental asylum, who sounded a bit like The Terminator when he was angry.

I can’t make my mind up about the minimal use of music, which didn’t help it feel any shorter but worked well in its scarcity.  Though a budget is a budget surely spending some of it on a door to replace the curtain in and out of Marvin’s Room would have been a worthwhile investment. 

The subject matter is heavy and while the Corpus Playroom on the upside makes an interesting theatrical space, which was quite well used, on the downside there is no bar and so no interval respite.  However, Marvin’s Room does have comic moments for all tastes; an anecdote of a patient in a mental asylum making a zoo of bugs he has tied to bits of hair under his bed and an onstage trip to Disneyworld complete with music and dressed up figures.  And it was moving at times.  After a well-directed, well-acted show that didn’t quite hit the spot, I certainly will try and put myself in Bessie’s awful shoes next time I complain about a hangover.