Becky Shaw

FRANCESCA HILL went in search of dark comedy. What she found wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t comedy.

alex klein becky shaw Corpus Playroom Jack Parlett jenny scudamore kim jarvis

Corpus Playroom, 7pm 12th – 16th February, £6/5

I’ve got beef with whoever writes the Corpus Playroom “What’s On” synopses. Like hell was that a “comedy”. About twenty minutes in, I scribbled “But is this actually funny?!” in my notepad, and sadly that set the tone for the evening.

The performances were realistic. The production values were good. Unfortunately however, lines which I recognised should have been funny were hurled and whispered and spat out at the audience in a way that never quite made it happen. When the plot of a play is so depressing, you have to deliver those lines perfectly in order to draw out the humour; whilst the cast is undoubtedly talented, conveying the drama of the piece well, the comedy aspect was missing. The only people laughing were the cast’s friends.

Gionfriddo’s play revolves around the lives of four central interwoven characters, all of whom are in love with two of the others at one point or other. I’m not entirely sure what the theme was, or if it even had one: “love, loss, and the different ways people respond to those things” is the closest I can get, and even that feels reductionist. Everything is fragmented and tangled.

None of the characters are that easy to emotionally invest in, which does make it hard to get too absorbed in the play. There was an unfortunate moment somewhere in the middle when a character asked “Did I just sound like a total tool?” and I accidentally blurted out “YES”. A few people looked around. It was awkward.

The eponymous character, more unfortunate catalyst than protagonist in her own right, is an unbalanced and sadly generally irritating young woman. Kim Jarvis was compellingly intense but just couldn’t make me feel for her, particularly when it transpired that she was scared of black men. (The character, not Jarvis.)

Jack Parlett as Andrew was rather more sympathetic, convincingly caring and appropriately sappy. Alex Klein’s Max, on the other hand, made a new entry into my “Most Unpleasant Fictional Characters Of All Time” with his redefinition of the terms brutish and emotionally-stunted. Somehow he managed to be charmingly charismatic at the same time though. That can only be a success.

The relationship between Max and his adopted-sister-slash-lover Suzie (Jenny Scudamore) was tangibly tense and offered the audience some of the most realistic scenes of the play. It took her a little while to seem at ease in the role, but later emotional scenes were powerful and provided a much-needed surge in energy.

Effective lighting and perfectly matched music for set changes did well at smoothing over the disjunction between the scenes caused by leaps forward in time. Novelty ringtones were used to great effect, breaking tension with music choices designed to reveal more about the phones’ owners. Moreover, the costumes were spot on: my personal favourite was Parlett’s Green Day tshirt / alternative granddad cardie combo.

At the end of the day, however, all that isn’t enough. I came hoping for something a little bit quirkier and more fun than the average depressing Corpus play about destructive love, fractured families and mental illness. And yet that’s exactly what I got. It could have been brilliant, but this wasn’t black comedy: it was merely black.