Directed by Joe Mellor
Producer and Assistant Director – Ollie Kerswell
Louder Than War reviews Breathing Corpses by Laura Wade. A Fresh Loaf Production.
It’s been a good year for the Loafers. The tight-knit team of creative out-of-town graduates who have made Manchester their adoptive home so they can, in their own words “give something back” have, in the last twelve months achieved the following:
Had their production of Jack Thorne’s play Stacy officially selected for the Nation Student Drama Festival
Bagged Joe Mellor a Best Actor Award for the same play at the same festival.
Premiered their critically acclaimed short film, Coastal Shelf at the prestigious Cornerhouse, Manchester.
Staged their version of Dave Florez’ Hand Over Fist as one of the highlights of the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2013.
Their very short film, Ashes has just been announced as runner up in the Guardian’s One Minute Film Competition.
And finally, to celebrate twelve very busy and productive months, their production of Laura Wade’s Breathing Corpses, which sold out so fast an extra date had to be added which also sold out record time. Fresh Loaf are rapidly becoming the Stone Roses of the Manchester fringe theatre scene.
On to the play then. Breathing Corpses, first performed at the Royal Court in 2005 takes it’s title from Sophocles’ assertion that “When a man has lost all happiness, he is not alive. Call him a breathing corpse.” The play is concerned with death and how we deal with it, or rather how those unfortunate enough to unexpectedly discover a corpse deal with it and the aftermath they and their loved ones have to deal with.
Manchester’ Victoria Baths, itself celebrating a decade since being voted the BBC’s very first ‘Restoration’ winner is an inspired and suitably chilly location for tonight’s performance. The cold green Victorian tiles leading down to the exposed brick basement lending a morgue like and distinctly ethereal quality to the production. An excellent and unusual choice of location for setting the play with the careful use of light throwing shadows across the stripped brick walls claustrophobically drawing the audience in.
Opening with the almost unfeasible unlucky hotel maid Amy (Laura Woodward) discovering her second corpse the play unfolds episodically with each scene performed as kind of a play within a play, but all of them interconnected. We go from Amy’s discovery to work colleagues Jim and Ray (Marcus Grant-Lipinski and Joe McKie respectively) and their interaction with Jim’s wife, Elaine (Elisha Mansuroglu). Grant-Lipinski and Mansuroglu are great as the ordinary couple before their life changing discovery and Joe McKie is a natural as the slightly OCD, slightly simple Ray. I mean that in the nicest possible way, Joe. Truly.
The three work very well together in what I felt was the weakest scene of the play but we return to these characters later, following the discovery of their own corpse and the emotionally debilitating affect it has on the trio. In the short time since we left them, all three have aged emotionally and it is a testament to the acting ability of this trio that there is a marked difference in their characters since we saw them in their first scene. Jim, slowly falling to pieces in front of the audience with his helplessly distraught wife looking on while he and his friend and former colleague Ray try to find a touching mutual solace in the familiarity of the tools of their trade.
On then to the next body. Kate (Rebecca Parker-Smith) is the archetypal woman walking her dog who discovers her corpse in a hedge. Through this discovery we see the relationship between her and boyfriend Ben (Todd James), already stretched to breaking point by mutually inflicted abuse, finally shatter under the strain of their emotional breakdown. Kate, violent towards both Ben and his persistently barking dog gives and takes both physical and emotional destruction in what is the most powerful scene of the play. Parker-Smith is remarkable as the fractured Kate and James is a perfectly suited match as the outwardly passive-aggressive Ben who can himself turn to violence in a heartbeat. The scene closes with Ben wrapping his hands around his dog’s lead, giving a hint of violence yet to come and the possibility of another corpse.
We’re with Amy again for the last scene and Woodward again exudes all the effortless charm of the hotel maid who is smarter than she appears to be. In the hands of a lesser actor this is a part that could easily come across as condescending, but Woodward really comes into her own in the final scene she shares with Joel Parry as Charlie, the shady and ambiguous hotel guest she arouses from drunken sleep.
I should at this stage disclose a personal interest in Joel Parry as he played the role of Martin in my very own play, In Pursuit Of Oblivion earlier this year. The part was semi-autobiographical and believe me, if he can play someone that’s meant to be based on me, he can play anyone. He was first class in that production and again tonight he turns in measured and disciplined performance with just a hint of underlying menace and Woodward’s performance as Amy bookends the play perfectly.
The whole production is an exemplar of what you can do with very little money, an awful lot of ambition and a big bagful of talent. Director Joe Mellor again proves his knack of coaxing naturalistic and intense performances from his actors by not being afraid to use silence and unspoken nuances as much as he utilises the text, which on this occasion is in more than capable hands while Assistant Director and Producer Ollie Kerswell keeps it all together with all the assured professionalism of someone with three times his experience.
The Fresh Loaf spirit, energy, work ethic and attitude towards theatre and any other project they choose to set their mind on is admirable. They don’t talk about it, they just do it, and when it’s done they show it to you and ask you to come and see it and tell them what you think.
And now they’ve done it again. Another assured and confident production that can hold its own with anything else either fringe or mainstream theatre has to offer.
Here’s to the next twelve months.
Amy – Lara Woodward
Jim – Marcus Grant-Lipski
Elaine – Elisha Mansuroglu
Ray – Joe McKie
Kate – Rebecca Parker-Smith
Ben – Todd James
Charlie – Joel Parry
Breathing Corpses is performed at Victoria Baths, Longsight, Manchester until 29 November 2013. Remainder tickets may be available. Check with Fresh Loaf.