Review: Bricks and Mortality
“I am eccentric but I am no fool”
Just as the new academic term begins to return to its usual rhythm the writing of Jonathan Powell returns, this time presenting his new play Bricks and Mortality at the Corpus Playroom. Billed as a surrealist drama about loss and legacy, the play centres on the Historical Hotel, run by the now-deceased hoarder and kleptomaniac Gerald Nest (Cian Morey); clearance officer Martha (Maria Telnikoff), tasked with preparing the house for demolition, very soon finds herself encountering the ghosts of the past, before wondering what her place in all this might be.
Upon entry of the Playroom, I was immediately impressed by Amber Heal’s cluttered set design with newspapers and nicknacks filling the floor and shelves in the hotel’s main room. I have often thought that the Playroom’s square space and white walls are best complemented by a wholly minimalist set without the risk of tackiness but Bricks & Mortality proved me wrong.
The spirit of the set was complemented by Kitty Beck’s direction – all the characters besides Telnikoff’s Martha sat on the stage upon our entry and use the audience as the wings, ensuring that their absence is always a kind of presence. Only Martha used the Playroom’s on stage door, signalling her outsider status as the hotel’s first guest in 30 years.
Beyond this, I did feel that the play had an unsure relationship with the fourth wall: Many characters frequently broke it towards the play’s star, encouraged by the set’s ivy vines covered in old photos extending into the audience, but Powell’s writing seemingly attempted the opposite, by alienating the audience with its bitty opening scenes. I did, however, enjoy this feeling of the pieces of the past being scattered like jigsaw pieces, that we would hope are brought together by the play’s conclusion.
I feel like the script, and the play itself, shone most when it allowed the cast’s exceptional talents the opportunity to shine. Cian Morey as Gerald filled the stage with the eccentricities and mannerisms of Matt Smith’s Doctor Who – with bow tie and pocket watch to boot. In Morey’s voice, the play’s opening monologue cemented immediately for me the beautiful poetic nature of Powell’s prose.
In later scenes where frequent blackouts didn’t interrupt pacing, Gregory Miller as a master of physicality with his iconic sense of humour was allowed to shine as he swaggered and even squatted through the stage as Victor, Gerald’s father – empty bottle of Smirnoff always in hand. In contrast, Emma Robinson’s performance as Felicity was a more haunting presence whose appearances coincided with a far more atmospheric usage of lighting and sound design by Sophie Howarth and Anna-Maria Woodrow, respectively which brought the past to life.
Katy Lawrence’s character Elsie was perhaps the most gentle performance, as she pushed the stage’s clutter around with her brush. Her line delivery really showed when Powell’s script understood character dynamics as she effortlessly bounced off the louder characters in the play. Jago Wainwright and Colin Hood presented the far more mysterious Black and White – a pair constantly antagonising each other, who seem to exist on a different plane to the rest of the characters, often baffling me as to the reason for their presence.
The stand-out performance of the show was, however, Maria Telnikoff, a Titan of Cambridge Theatre. Her mature and life-filled approach to acting explains why you so often see her on the ADC stage in such a variety of roles. Here, her character went on such a journey from start to finish, as she sought the truth of the hotel, I believed every word she spoke came from the heart and not from a script.
Bricks and Mortality is an intelligent and poetic script that can sometimes leave audiences more confused than not, but with excellent performances and direction is certainly an entertaining late show. 3.5/5 stars.
Bricks and Mortality runs until Saturday 16th October at the Corpus Playroom. Tickets are available here.