An Earlier Heaven

It may not be particularly remarkable, but MEGAN DALTON nonetheless enjoys this display of unaffected humanity.

an earlier heaven Corpus Playroom helena blair megan dalton pete skidmore

Corpus Playroom, 9.30pm, Tue 19th – Sat 23rd Nov, £6/5

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Expect to be charmed and amused by this new comedy about family dynamics, conversation and coping with loss. It may not be hugely innovative or ground-breaking, but An Earlier Heaven makes for an enjoyable evening’s viewing.

The play is set entirely in the room of a hospital, and follows the various visitors of Alice Naylor, a woman in a coma (played by a remarkably composed Harriet Cartledge). Dialogue frequently takes turns between the hilarious, the absurd, and the quite genuinely touching, and Pete Skidmore should be praised for his ability to switch deftly between the comic and the serious. The juxtaposition between Thomas Stuchfield’s sensitive performance of the heartfelt Roger, Alice’s husband, and the entrance of Yaseen Kader as the atrociously socially awkward doctor was particularly striking – both for its comic effect and its peculiar profundity.

The first of Alice’s family we meet are her two sons. On the one hand we have the selfish, successful, suited-up older brother; and on the other the more sensitive and likeable, if somewhat pathetic, younger brother. What with their being –or at least initially seeming to be – such stereotypes, and what with the absurdity of the humour, it would have been nice to have seen the two brothers more heavily characterised. I would attribute this to a directorial decision as opposed to the quality of acting, which was good, as indeed it continued to be throughout the rest of the performance.

The slightly uncomfortable, and at moments verging on slightly dull, stasis of this first scene was ended by the entrance of Helena Blair as Margaret and Bea Svistunenko as Polly, two elderly friends of Alice, with Blair’s performance being particularly fantastic. The two met the absurdity of the humour with their use of gesture to great effect. Their presence immediately raised the volume of laughter in the room, and it was at this point that the script really came into its own.

Indeed, as the action ensued, the play showed its dexterity, as more profound and serious undertones came to light. Action was always interspersed with laughs, although jokes did occasionally miss the mark. The strongest moments were those when themes used to comic effect, such as a very British approach to expectation and repression, were re-addressed from a more emotive perspective, bridging the gap between the two and thus assimilating absurdity with reality.

Speaking of reality, the set was generally convincing, although I feel it’s somewhat impossible to articulate its principle flaw without spoiling what is simultaneously one of the most funny, shocking, and logically nonsensical moments of the play. Perhaps, however, it is not fair to criticise, given that our writer’s aim was clearly not to achieve medical realism.

This play is by no means perfect in its composition or execution, but it is pervaded with wit and an unaffected humanity which makes it really quite enjoyable.