REVIEW: Dying City
After the excitement of fresher’s week, Jacob Haddad thinks this intimately staged play is perfect for hung-over reflection.
Brimming with emotional and political depth, Corpus Christi Playroom’s new production of Christopher Shinn’s Dying City is a great opportunity for some light late night reflection on the politics of war, death, and and how relationships can be broken by both.
The action hinges on the meeting between therapist Kelly and an unexpected guest following her husband Craig’s death in the Iraq war. This turns out to be Craig’s twin brother, Peter, who is a comfort, though increasingly a problematic one. As regular conversations between Peter and Kelly in her apartment continue, the audience is given the job of piecing together their backstories. Both are vulnerable, and the brave and expressive performances of Helena Blair and Matt Bradley bring to life the rawness of this grief. Bradley is particularly strong here, balancing mental distress and anarchic humour to produce a psychologically convincing character.
The success in not total, however. Part of the subtlety of the fact that Bradley plays both Craig and twin Peter is that the flashback scenes between Kelly and Craig in the past begin to blend in disturbingly with the scenes where Kelly and Peter are trying to come to terms with their loss in the present. If Bradley could have differentiated between the two characters more clearly in his performance (though no mean feat), this clever idea could have been put across more powerfully, as well as saving the audience a lot of confusion.
What cannot be doubted, though, is that the intimacy of the Corpus Playroom is perfect for the mood of the play, and a sense of growing claustrophobia throughout is brought out to maximum effect by staging it in a single room. Peter’s various entrances and exits, as he brushes past the audience, unsettle by breaking down the barrier between audience and actors, making Dying City’s rawness very much alive in the moment.
Although the play is only an hour long, you are left both emotionally and physically drained; surprising for sedentary entertainment. The audience is constantly involved in piecing things together up until the shock revelation of the end, figuring out past from present, so that it’s more of a mental and psychological workout than passive spectating. Gasps of realisation, occasional laughs, and real emotional involvement among audience members are all amplified in the small auditorium in a special way.
A perfect fit between play and playroom, and featuring two young actors who hold nothing back and bear all in their performances, Dying City will prove a highlight of Cambridge student theatre this Michaelmas.