Arriving at Candyland Arts Space feels much the same as arriving at Jim’s storage space, one imagines. There is a cold industrial feel, both inside and out, and One Little Room have thoughtfully provided blankets for their audience to help protect against the cavernous space and the Melbourne weather. The stage space is thrust out into the dark, surrounded by knives, with the audience seated on either side. The cast of Breathing Corpses hang on a twisted metal shape, backs to the room. The music is a little too loud. The sound tech hasn’t quite got the balance of sound and echo right yet.
Breathing Corpses connects the stories of people dealing with death, in the unavoidable physical form of dead bodies, the corpses they have stumbled upon and how it will affect the rest of their lives. Made up of a series of interconnecting scenes, the play is largely character driven. Even the themes take a backseat as the conversations and thoughts of each character wash over the space. This is particularly true in the first scene, where hotel maid Amy (Jaq Avery) monologues at the recently deceased Jim. Avery plays Amy as buoyant, naive, and somewhat listless, with a heavy English working class accent. Like all the unnecessary English accents in the show, Avery’s fluctuates, especially as the intensity builds. It’s a strange directorial decision many theatre companies make, and it’s pretty distracting, causing the audience to spend a good deal of the performance wondering why the play needs accents at all (aside from a mention of London, there isn’t a good answer in Breathing Corpses). The naturalistic costumes contrast the abstract set (both designed by Valentina Serebrennikova), resulting in a strong sense of displacement that echoes each character’s lost emotions.
There is a kind of insightful pointlessness to most of the scenes in the play. Written by Laura Wade, the script is award-winning yet devastatingly simple, which means a lot of its power falls into the hands of the actors performing it. At times, the cast of this production seem completely unsure what to do with the words they utter. At others, the command of dialogue and space combines into something chilling. This is especially the case in the scene with Kate (Alice Daly) and Ben (Steven Frost). The two have a violent lack of chemistry that lends their relationship its brutal atmosphere. Both Daly and Frost embody their uncomfortable characters completely, warping their physicality and seemingly inhabiting a tiny corner of and the whole stage simultaneously. The final scene, with Amy and Charlie (Mclean Jackson), is somewhat on the nose – though this is a fault with the writing, and not Avery and Jackson’s tender characterisation.
In a lot of ways, Breathing Corpses is Fringe at its best. A new company, exploring the possibilities of production, pushing gently at the boundaries of conventional theatre without breaking them badly enough to isolate their audiences and render solid scripts unwatchable. It’s engaging theatre. Take a friend, you’ll want someone to talk about it with afterwards.
Breathing Corpses is on until October 1st at 7:30pm, Monday to Saturday nights. Tickets range between $20 – $35 and are available from the Melbourne Fringe website.