MATTHEW WOLFSON is impressed by some talented and insightful freshers.
Corpus Playroom, 9.30pm, Tue 12th – Sat 16th March, £6/£5
by Ellen Robertson, Mossy Wittenberg and Tom Wheeldon
directed by Madeleine Heyes
This piece is without doubt worth the ticket price, but it’s best avoided if you’re in the mood for relaxed viewing. It was conceived by first years Ellen Robertson, Mossy Wittenberg and Tom Wheeldon after an improv group rejected their suggestion for a shorter skit. Striking out on your own with a new idea is a confident move, and the finished product reflects both the upsides and downsides of these writers’ faith in their instincts.
So, Post Mortem is a genuinely fresh piece of work, and, more subtly, a remarkably ambitious one. However, there is a sense that these writers have become so involved in putting their insights on paper that they’ve forgotten to keep their audience in the loop. Occasionally they lose sight of which of their ideas deserve the most emphasis and which deserve to be edited out. The results are that clever dialogue sometimes becomes convoluted and that the piece appears to lack a clear thematic line — occasionally it feels more like a series of vignettes than something comprehensive. Nonetheless, if you’re willing to risk intermittent frustration, Post Mortem is something to see.
The play is about Helena Montague, played by Ellie Price in a performance that marshals both directness and subtlety. Helena’s a twenty-five year old solicitor who for unclear reasons wants to be a coroner, but is continually turned down by bizarre interviewers (nicely played by Petar Lekarski and Olivia Galvin). In the meantime she interacts with her inert but likeable flat-mate Frank Franklin (a valuable supporting turn by Ed Ayers), her emotionally distant mother (well embodied by Esme Mahoney), and her college friends Hal and Jeremy (played solidly by Ryan Potter and George Seabridge) who are busy living the high life that Helena is busy rejecting.
But there are more layers to the piece as well: draconian cuts to public sector jobs by the current Tory government; suicides; and a media, represented in a fine-tuned performance by Jess Franklin, more interested in crafting the perfect line out of these stories than in discovering reality.
So the plot is a jigsaw that doesn’t become remotely coherent until the end. In other words, it’s similar to life if you, like Helena, are a twenty-something graduate trying to make your way in an environment where there are no road signs and everybody’s busy looking out for themselves. You don’t want to be like your self-satisfied but uninteresting friends who are making money, but you also don’t want to be like your funny but directionless roommate. Worse, you’re still working through personal problems you feel like you should’ve outgrown years ago.
One of my favorite writers has a dictum that ‘style is character’. This play’s like that: its disjointed style embodies the lived experience of trying to put together the pieces in a seemingly unresponsive world. The script accomplishes this mostly without clichés or obviousness, and that makes for an extraordinarily impressive achievement. As I said, though, the writers can’t quite control their material: they’re too busy juggling dialogue, plots and themes to clarify, edit and emphasize appropriately. There’s a definite risk that viewers will leave disappointed at having expended so much effort on a piece that seems on first viewing to lack thematic direction. But, overall, this is serious, skilful work created and performed by people who luckily will be around Cambridge for two more years.