Breathing Corpses

Tue 30th April – Wed 1st May 2013


Zoe Hunter Gordon

at 11:52 on 1st May 2013



“When a man has lost all happiness, he’s not alive. Call him a breathing corpse.” Sound intense? It’s not what you expect. Studiospace’s production of Bristol graduate Laura Wade’s “Breathing Corpses” was moving, surreal and (surprisingly for a play about death) very, very funny.

It’s a bold choice of play from the Studiospace team. With the absence of a linear timeline and no protagonist, it takes a while to get your head into. However, it’s worth the struggle as when the plot does finally unfold the performance is magnetic. The action ranges from a hotel room to a storage business using set nicely designed by Becky Thornton and Mimi Allen; however, it’s a shame that set changes took so long. Especially towards the beginning of the play, when the audience had not yet become familiar with the disjointed nature of the plot, these changes were distracting and could have been a lot slicker.

The audience is confronted by a corpse in the very first scene (Ally Watson must be commended for his brilliant portrayal of the dead Jim – if you think this is an easy task I ask you to think again!) But far from being morbid the charming Amy, played by Katie Wells, puts us at ease and we are thrown into a series of scenes where, although linked by a collection of corpses, drama is created by very real and kicking human relationships.

It is sometimes said that students cannot play older adults. I'm glad to say that, once again, this myth has been shown to be false. Although it is true to say that the older characters in Breathing Corpses must have been a challenge for both the cast and directors (Mimi Allen and Lauren Orrock), the age was handled with care and at no point was I reminded that the actors I was watching were young. Special credit here must be given to Maureen Lennon, who from her first entrance was entirely believable as Elaine. Jim’s breakdown, another challenge, was beautifully done – Ally Watson remembering the “stink like maggots” was a joy to watch. It was a shame then that this scene took place so upstage, I was told after the show that some audience members could not see these moments. I hope this will be remedied in later performances as they weren't moments to miss!

Elaine and Jim were not the only two challenging characters in the play; Ben and Kate, though younger, were also very difficult parts. The relationship between them was abusive yet romantic, and the script explored the extremes of both. Kate, played by Missy Fitzalan Howard, portrayed points of intense frustration brilliantly (I am thinking in particular of the moment where she ripped the plaster from Ben’s nose, this was perfectly timed.) However, the relationship between them was confused and did not feel entirely believable. The script itself is difficult and their relationship is definitely a tricky one to understand, but I felt a little more work was needed in order for the conclusion to feel plausible.

Towards the end of the play the momentum of the plot really began to take hold and the final scene in the hotel room, with a rather different “corpse” this time (an absolutely fantastic moment) was perhaps my favourite scene of the entire play. Oliver Bahbout almost stole the show with his brilliant performance of Charlie, setting the audience on edge with his perfect charm. It was here that the power of the script really came through; watching Amy as the lights went down one did really feel as if one was watching a breathing corpse.

If you’re looking for a happy-clappy play full of lovable characters, Breathing Corpses isn’t for you. But who wants that? Breathing Corpses is an original, hilarious and thought provoking piece of theatre. Go, you won’t regret it.


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