The third and longest piece in Virgin Territory, a season of new writing at Barons Court Theatre, is an inventive, dark drama written and directed by Michael Hubbard.
The body in question belongs to Mark Mitford, a young gay Londoner, now deceased. The play opens with his funeral and then proceeds to unfold in reverse. As the narrative unravels it quickly becomes clear that Mark was a troubled man, driven to take his own life. Depressed by his inability to find a job, his disturbance had been heightened by the recent death of his lover, Will. It also quickly becomes evident to the audience that Mark’s problems ran far deeper than any of his friends suspected.
In the scenes that follow we begin to get a picture of Mark’s life. His flatmate Jennifer is an aspiring writer, with feelings towards her friend that are more than merely platonic. She, in turn, is friends with Sophie, Will’s sister, and the three of them are still struggling with their recent loss and the uncertainty surrounding his death at a busy tube station. Did he fall? Did he jump? Or was he pushed?
The subterranean Barons Court Theatre seems an ideal place for a play with a pivotal scene that takes place on the underground. The walls have been painted black, maximising the space’s potential for intensity. And though the fractured narrative makes certain demands of the audience they are certainly well rewarded, especially in the slicker, funnier second half where we finally catch a glimpse of Will.
The relationship between the two men, one young, beautiful and moneyed, the other older but not especially wiser, is rich with potential and should have been developed further. What we get is very well handled but these are fleeting moments; instead the play concentrates on the exchanges between Mark and his Auntie. This elderly woman pops up at several crucial moments of the play, clutching a stuffed rabbit, chattering away in a dithery but perceptive manner. Is she a memory? A fragment of his conscience? Her presence allows us to comprehend his distance from reality but it sometimes feels a little overstated.
In Christopher Nolan’s Memento, a similar reversal of the action stemmed from the hero’s inability to remember, his lack of short term memory, but here it ultimately feels like an unnecessary device. There is so much going on of interest: the intelligent examination of a relationship between a gay man and his straight female friend, of the effect of being unemployed in a highly work-centric urban environment, and of the question of just how well we ever truly know the people in our lives. While a level of narrative experimentation is often welcome, in this case it doesn’t really add anything to the drama.
By far the strongest scenes here are the naturalistic ones between the four young people, the dialogue fizzes and the characters are compelling. The Auntie and the character of Mark’s leather-trousered landlord Fredrik, though strongly performed by Lindy Henny and Alexander Gordon Wood, seem just too big for this space.
Body Anonymous is an intriguing debut. Laurence Jackson and Catherine Allison do some very strong work as Mark and Sophie respectively, there are some inspired touches in the direction and some spot on musical selections to back the action. Hopefully all the pieces in the Virgin Territory season will get the opportunity to be developed further and it will be interesting to see how this piece evolves. It needs polishing certainly but the raw material is undeniably there.