Reviews of 'Disposing of the Body'
Reviews of 'Disposing of the Body'
Review by Trish Burgess
I’m not entirely sure why I neglected to look at the synopsis for this play before going to the theatre. If I had done, I would have realised that this wasn’t a whodunit and the murder I was expecting to occur in the opening scenes wasn’t going to happen.
Henry and Angela Preece take early retirement and move from London to the Cotswolds. Feeling bereft as their only son, Ben, is now living in California, it is a fragile time for the pair. Angela is happy to continue in her role as homemaker, but Henry is finding it harder to settle; order and routine being a prerequisite for his contentment. They meet their neighbours, Alexander and Joanna Barley, and the friendship that develops is promising, if a little strained. When Joanna begins to take on secretarial duties for Henry, it’s not long before the two begin an affair which ultimately proves to be the unravelling of Henry. Then Angela disappears.
It’s very refreshing to see an amateur theatre group take on a lesser-known play when we all know it’s far easier to deliver a comedy, a spin-off from a TV show perhaps, which is certain to attract a sizeable audience. But theatre groups are doing their members a disservice if they always take the easy option.
Choosing Disposing of the Body was a bold move by the St Nicolas Players. It’s not an easy play and reviews of other groups performing it would seem to suggest it isn’t universally enjoyed. It could be a powerful piece of theatre but its lack of pace in the first half, on account of the many monologues which pepper the action, asks a lot of the audience. The second half is more arresting, as the characters become more animated and visceral: emotions are heightened by the pain of loss and betrayal.
Jed Laxton, who played Henry, is to be commended for pouring every ounce of emotion into this complex role. His anguish was palpable as his world began to crumble: his clothes, demeanour and mannerisms matched the turmoil in his mind.
Martin Tyrrell has a strong stage presence. Very easy to watch, he always looked comfortable in the role as Alexander, whether it was being the rather pompous teacher at the start or later as the angry and heart-broken husband, having to face his wife’s duplicity.
Arline Evenden explored how rejection can change a warm and generous wife into the dejected, lost soul that Angela sadly became. It was clear that husband-stealer Joanna, played ably by Jules Jones, hadn’t quite anticipated how far-reaching her little fling would be.
A female Inspector Poole was played by Pippa Grover, who delivered her lines with confidence and good diction: someone to watch for the future. The character of Kate (Ann Temple) surprised us all with her own revelations in the second half, as did the prodigal son, Ben (Kevin Palmer) who displayed his own raw emotions because of guilt. And kudos to Rob Nicholls, the hotel manager, for his expert upending of Henry which produced a whoop of delight from the audience.
The set was cleverly designed, using three projection screens to show the interiors and exteriors: without this, set changes would have stifled the pace even more. I would have preferred the typing scenes to have been played further downstage: any sexual tension between Henry and Joanna in the early days of their relationship was lost behind the sofa.
Finally, just a personal opinion, but I do find it awkward to see the cast already in place when I enter the theatre. The main characters were seated, frozen on stage, while members of the audience took their seats, rooted around in bags for sweets, talked to friends or hid behind programmes, anything to lessen their discomfort. I love audience involvement during a performance: the cast can run down the aisles and interact as much as they like. But when house lights are up, the magic, for me, isn’t there.
Likewise, at the end, instead of the actors acknowledging their audience with smiles and bows, they slowly took their positions and held blank expressions. Hence, the applause was short-lived as the audience members didn’t quite know how to show their appreciation. I’ve never seen the South Holland Centre clear so quickly as it dawned on everyone that the cast couldn’t go home until we did.
Well done, Nick Fletcher, for tackling this play as Director and getting the very best out of your actors. I am sure they will have found the experience of being involved in such an emotionally-demanding play hugely rewarding. The society will certainly reap the benefit.
Review by Peter Breech, NODA
On entering the auditorium the stage curtains were drawn back and a group of persons, later appearing as cast members, were seated centre stage; they remained motionless and silent until the performance commenced. No explanation given as to why this form of introduction had been adopted, nor why a similar format was used at the conclusion of the performance. However, the programme notes did contain the Director’s decision - that this production would have a radical, minimalist, and at times, surreal direction.
The plot features the ordinariness of recently retired Henry Preece (played by Jed Laxton) and what follows when he unexpectedly becomes involved in a passionate affair with his neighbour, married Joanna Barley (played by Jules Jones) who comes to work for him. The author of this play, Hugh Whitemore, is a highly regarded playwright and screenwriter and in this particular work he focusses on the effects of those who become involved in extra-marital affairs and their families. Though this situation is often used as a basis for theatrical farce, situations such as those on which this play is based, more frequently have serious and devastating effects on those concerned.
Here was an opportunity to produce a most moving and powerful performance featuring a common occurrence in many lives but, despite much effort from the cast, lack of pace was largely responsible for hindering that. Perhaps the provision of more physical support for the players in the form of scenery, props, set changes, even some incidental music, etc. may have helped achieve this?