REVIEW: Crimes of the Heart

Last night saw a criminally gripping tragicomedy at the Corpus Playroom.

Cambridge Theatre Corpus Playroom Main Show

Babe just didn’t like her husband’s stinking looks. So she shot him in the stomach, then she made a big glass of lemonade for herself. You can’t blame her. An attempted murder makes you quite thirsty.

In Crimes of the Heart, a Pulitzer Prize winning comedy in which humour is gorily dark, three sisters are gathered together in the old family house somewhere in Mississippi. Murderer Becky (Jasmin Rees), know as Babe by her family, the spinster Lenny (Molly Stacey) donned in a mothball cardigan and Meg (Isla Iago), the down-and-out singer discuss a few bad days sitting in their dusty kitchen.

Kitchen table chats turned criminal.

Truth to tell, for them a bad day doesn’t constitute only a bad-hair day. It’s darkened by the shadow of a mother who hung herself together with the family cat hovering in the wind of an actual hurricane. So it’s pretty bad.

Coming from a family consisting strictly of women, I can say with confidence that a kitchen similar to the one where the whole drama takes place generally resembles a tragicomic mental ward. There, among half-eaten birthday treats, the sisters, stuck in their existence like insects on flypaper, try to save or take their lives depending on their current hysteric mood. Suicide attempts have never been so funny. The story takes such an inverted turn that you find yourself laughing at death and crying at life.

To laugh or to cry?

Male characters play a second-rank role. The girls are leaving a shot husband, a dying grandfather, some lovers suffering from screwed-up affairs and a debauched teenager boy behind them. Men hanging around the poisoning sisters conveniently happen to be somehow lamed by a hurricane or struck by lightning.

Isla Iago as Meg captivatingly dominates the stage and hypnotises the whole audience, while her character rules the other sisters and all the appearing men. Jasmin Rees wonderfully embodies Babe, the angel-faced ingénue who paradoxically commits the most surprising sins in a row, all the while with an innocent smile on her face. Molly Stacey rhapsodically jumps from embarrassed laughing to manic yelling but it certainly fits the neurotic character of Lenny.

Credit: Katie Woods

The supporting cast grasps three comedic archetypes. Josh McClure’s balanced play of the role of the inexperienced, young advocate is refreshing in the circle of the lamenting women. His character could be a parody of the freshly graduated Cambridge student entering the real Life. Ellie Cole’s performance as the tedious and unpleasant part Chick, the girls’ antipathetic cousin, is also enjoyable. Doc Porter’s (Peter Chappell) oversized suit, at first sight, manifests all the derailed life of the character and was a good choice by the costume designer Shermaine Devine.

In fact the costumes as a whole and the entire atmosphere reliably evoked fifties America. It’s so catchy that you are humming retro tunes on the way home, planning to wear a dotted skirt the day after and have the strong impulse to drink a coke as soon as possible.

Somehow, by the close, you are less afraid of death, having laughed in its gloomy face for two hours.

4/5 stars