Review: Memento Mori

A delightfully dark comedy of errors, ambition, and reflection

In a post-exam effort to reclaim my desk space from studying, last night I sat down to watch the ADC lateshow, Memento Mori, livestreamed straight from the theatre. This unrepentingly dark but very witty show made for an enjoyable evening and I found myself laughing out loud frequently in the late-night quiet of my room (apologies to my neighbours).

Written by Gregory Miller, who also played Jenrick for this performance, Memento Mori is about the not-so-peaceful retirement of a wealthy merchant who prepares for death by going to bed and ‘thinking about it constantly’, surrounded by books of philosophy. Unfortunately for Jenrick, his servants, business partner, and ex-lover have other plans. None of these characters are conventionally likeable, all being rather greedy and selfish in their own way, and the plot revolves around their various schemes to get their hands on Jenrick’s wealth, revealing their own hopes and vulnerabilities in doing so.

(Image credit: Philip Tarrant)

Miller’s performance as the cantankerous, attention-seeking, and surprisingly insecure Jenrick was a show-stealer, generating raucous laughter with his witty one-liners and tempers which oscillated between roguish charm and explosive outrage. More impressively, the majority of this captivating performance was carried out in bed, in a frankly adorable set of pyjamas.

Elizabeth Kate Weber as Janice, the woman who Jenrick loved but was now engaged to his boorish business partner Reinhard, was also fantastic. She played this often cruel, abrasive and sarcastic character with considerable depth and moments of fragility which enriched her striking portrayal of someone who knows exactly how to get what she wants.

I enjoyed Tavy Oursin and Theo Collins as the servants Heinrich and Jenkins. The dynamic between this duo worked well, with Collins playing the alarmingly ambitious Jenkins with cut-throat authority and Oursin working well as the nervous Heinrich, his meeker but perhaps amoral foil.

Another amusing dynamic was that between Reinhard, Jenrick’s posh, incompetent, and philandering business partner, and his fiancé, Janice. The pair, who epitomize the ‘toxic relationship’, were engaged in a constant power play, manipulating each other with equal parts ‘sweet, sweet lovemaking’ and emotional violence, performing these tonal shifts to great comic effect.

(Image credit: Philip Tarrant)

Directed by Dylan Evans, for the most part this was slick and lively production. Occasionally, I found the pace dragging slightly and some longer scenes began to feel slightly static, but on the whole the need to social distance onstage was dealt with effectively. Evans managed to maintain a general sense of dynamism and momentum despite it being more a play of manipulative conversations than actions.

Miller’s script was delightfully alert to the potentials for both absurdity and melancholy generated by his subject matter, filled with hilarious punchlines perfectly timed at moments of panic or anguish. Eminently quotable, Miller’s debt to Renaissance city comedies of the Jonsonian ilk is plain to see as he gives this conniving genre of greed and brazen ambition a modern spin.

Shifts of tone balancing the murderous and the comic were expertly handled, and, though the plot occasionally slowed a little too much for my liking, the hurtle towards the ‘neat ending’ made for a farcical yet satisfying and perversely charming conclusion.

Overall, Memento Mori is quirky, dark, and intensely funny. If you’re looking for a way to spend your evening, I would definitely recommend getting your hands on a ticket (still available for tonight’s livestream here).

4/5 stars

Cover image by Letizia Maculan.