Review: Still Life

Glimpses of soft-spoken love and charming flirtations before the whistle blows for the train ride home

Stepping into the Corpus Playroom, you walk through an old-timey cafe to get to your seat, feeling as though you have in fact just stepped into a still life image from days gone by. As the play begins, the set–a train station refreshment room from 1945– is brought to vivid, poignant life by a no-nonsense Mrs Bagot (Holly Varndell) and a giggling young Beryl (Elsie Hayward) as they go about the business of selling tea and “cake or pastry?” to travellers who fancy a quick cuppa before catching their trains.

Image credits: Christopher Lorde

Still Life is a series of flirtations orbiting the central forbidden romance between Laura (Lucy Brougham) and Alec (Rafael Griso Dryer). The moment of their first meeting is intimately charged, lit under warm lamplight as Alec helps Laura remove a bit of grit stuck in her eye. Brougham and Dryer beautifully preserve this air of quiet intimacy through the duration of the play as their characters return to the refreshment room to see each other, trying to strike a course through their unquestionable feelings for one another whilst addressing their sense of guilt– both are married with children.

Dryer’s physicality of openness and collected ease in the early scenes is particularly striking; with a tilt of his head or the angle of his seat, or the choice moments in which he leans, just a little, into Brougham’s space, he is astutely attuned to the emotional modulations of the narrative. In a play all about the slight, the restrained, the momentary, and the hushed (it’s called Still Life for a reason), managing the dynamics of each scene with such dexterity is an impressive feat. Brougham, too, successfully conveys the sense of a woman with her guard up against the pull of her own desires, restrained by respectability and duty to her family. She shines most when she is beautifully shattered by her character’s sense of loss.

Image credits: Christopher Lorde

The play’s other flirtations help fill out its ‘still life’ moments. Michel Iorchir is a charming, gently joyful comic presence as Albert Godby; singing a sweet rendition of Tea For Two and dancing round the tables, he perfectly complements Varndell’s Mrs Bagot, drawing precious smiles and sentiment from her skilfully constructed businesslike shell. David Ruston’s sauntering, impertinent Stanley draws chuckles from the audience with each wink thrown at Beryl.

Iris Jopp, appearing late into the play, injects a welcome burst of energy that brilliantly shakes up the stillness of the play’s gentle melancholy. She makes a highlight of the play’s final scene, where her performance of polite disruption as the meddling force of social convention masterfully mediates the moment’s simultaneous comedy and tragedy.

Image credits: Christopher Lorde

Though the pacing and dynamics could have benefited from a bit more variance, particularly in the more emotional moments between the central lovers, the relationships between characters brim with a sweetness that maintain the audience’s investment regardless. In its most emotionally significant points, the staging choices mostly enhance the actors’ portrayals. The Corpus Playroom is a difficult space to work in, faced with audience members on two sides.

In different scenes, Laura and Alec switch seats at the table, allowing the audience a good view of each character. Lighting designer Hillary Qiu simply and effectively seals each moment up in time, ending each scene with a brief purple wash before fading to black.

Image credits: Christopher Lorde

Still Life is a classical, old-fashioned love story told with poignant restraint and quiet humour. It makes for a lovely hour of reprieve from exam revision.


Still Life is showing from 14th – 18th May at Corpus Playroom. Tickets are available here.

Feature image credits: Christopher Lorde

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