The discovery of a body in a hotel room kick-starts a series of interconnected vignettes in Fresh Loaf’s new adaptation of Laura Wade’s Breathing Corpses. This cyclical play examines in intense detail the domino effect death has on a group of seemingly unconnected people.
This might sound a grim prospect, and for the most part, it is. Whether it be fraught couple Kate and Ben tearing each other’s hair out, or Jim, the laconic self-storage manager struggling to come to terms with the contents of the one of his lock-up’s, it’s an emotionally fraught journey through different human responses as the pieces of the jigsaw connect in a morbid picture.
As it opens, Amy (Laura Woodward), a chambermaid in a hotel, discovers a body. Dubbed the ‘angel of death’ due to her uncanny ability of stumbling across bodies in hotel rooms, she shares a curiously erotic and macabre encounter with said body, stroking its feet and hands whilst talking to it. As she leaves, the body then gets up and dresses whilst staring irritably at the audience. This particular breathing corpse is Jim (Marcus Grant-Lipinski), owner of a self-storage facility and his entrance is a remarkable way of bridging scenes.
The play’s greatest strength is the lack of linear narrative. Inviting you to make the connections between its vignettes, it demands attention, and asks you to think about the action. The performance in Manchester’s iconic Victoria Baths lends a sense of style to proceedings. But the cramped Turkish Rest Rooms nearly tips from the balance to style over substance. A slightly uncomfortable and very cold venue, it runs the risk of detracting rather than enhancing the on-stage action through its various distractions. However, Fresh Loaf made the best of the space with limited props effectively conveying multiple scenes. The relatively simplistic (although I’m sure I’m doing the tech chaps a disservice) lighting casts the most tremendous and atmospheric shadows over everything.
Breathing Corpses’ greatest success and weakness is the relationship that pans out between Jim (Marcus Grant-Lipinski), his wife Elaine (Elisha Mansuroglu) and worker Ray (Joe McKie). The initial scene they appear in, before tragedy strikes paints them as simple, and truth be told, fairly bland characters. However, after the discovery of a body in one of the storage lock-ups, the strain of where this leaves Jim and Elaine’s marriage, and Ray’s efforts to help patch things up is etched into their faces and their performances. Grant-Lipinski’s deconstruction in front of his aghast wife and former work colleague is a much more subtle and effective demonstration of the emotional effects of death than the intervening violent scene between Kate and Ben. As ever, it’s the implied rather than shown devastation that wreaks the most havoc in the audience’s mind.
The turbulent relationship between Kate (Rebecca Parker-Smith) and Ben (Todd James) is the focus of that violent scene. Whilst the violence is undoubtedly shocking, Parker-Smith’s Kate is too unsympathetic for my taste. It’s a powerful performance, but one that is reliant on destructive behaviour to make its bombastic point effectively. You end up cheering for Ben as he finally snaps with deadly consequences instead of fully appreciating the nuances of their relationship.
Laura Wade’s script leaves potential for much black comedy but with few laughs to diffuse the tension, Joe Mellor’s direction errs to the macabre but is satisfying when you’re able to connect the pieces together. It’s just a shame that some characters are presented as too overtly what they seem to be, and without the complexity that could be afforded to them. Fresh Loaf’s talent pool has combined to produce something that whilst not perfect is an intriguing, if occasionally uncomfortable look into raw and sometimes primal human emotions.
The Fiction Stroker gives Breathing Corpses three and half strokes out of five: