Mad Funny Just @ Theatre 503, London

performed and devised by

Christopher Brandon
Lachlan Chapman
Alison O’Donnell
Mark Field
Becci Gemmell

directed by
Sarah Tipple
A young woman is dead. A tragic accident. No one to blame. Her older brother has returned home to deliver the eulogy. Her friends, those close to her and those less so, sit around discussing her life. Her former teacher finds himself thinking about the girl he helped to find her feet in the world. Did any of them really know her?

Spelt out like that, this play sounds like a fairly heavy watch unappealingly worthy and wordy. Yet, this is an original and inventive piece of theatre, fresh and distinctive. While admittedly the narrative is, on some levels, quite a conventional one, its staging is not. The production is made up of a series of superbly observed scenes featuring sullen teens and elderly neighbours, scenes that capture the inarticulacy of grief, the awkwardness that surrounds it and the uncertainty people feel about how to react, what to say.

The production is a deceptively simple one. Theatre 503’s intimate performance space above the Latchmere pub has been decked out as a rehearsal room, with plain plywood walls and just a couple of chairs as props – allowing the performances to guide the story.

Devised by Creased, a theatre collective made up of five performers and a director, the show is being staged as one of the winners of the Old Vic New Voices scheme, in conjunction with Theatre 503. Which is apt, as this is how this feels: new, exuberant, youthful. Not everything they attempt comes off, but creative energy permeates every scene.

Where this piece really shines is in the quality of the performances. Becci Gemmell is particularly memorable as an elderly neighbour of the dead girl, with her hesitant, repetitive delivery. Mark Field is also quite wonderful, playing both Kieran, the boy who harboured a crush on the late Louise, as well as one of her old school friends, a wannabe rapper, whos dead proud of the fact he once won a poetry competition.

Director Sarah Tipple holds the piece together, ensuring the various switches between characters are easy to follow. And some of the early scenes are impeccably choreographed, particularly a sequence set on a tube train, where the actors shift and shuffle to the familiar rhythm of the underground.

As I said, not everything works. One of the fantasy sequences a game show parody where Louises brother realises he knows very little about his sisters life feels rather too obvious and easy. Also, once the narrative proper kicks in, you do find yourself missing the manic invention of the early scenes.

But for all the cleverness of its staging, not to mention its thick streak of dark humour, there is something very human at the centre of this production, something one can connect to. This elevates it from just a clever exercise into something more memorable; the last few scenes in particular are surprisingly poignant and touching.

This is an exciting and energetic piece, exuding potential and invention. The story it tells may not be particularly original and the method of its staging leaves little room for the characters to grow. But in terms of performance and sheer creativity, its a delight.

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