Reviewed – 26th February 2019
“The first act does well despite its outlandish plotting, thanks to some stalwart character comedy”
While lying dead in an open coffin in his own flat, several unlikely things happen to John Jones, the central character of this darkish three-act play. An underworld criminal sends in a glamorous blonde to plant a package into a biscuit barrel (spoiler alert: for no apparent reason) and a maid mistakenly comes to the flat for an interview. John then wakes up from what turns out to be a coma to catch his girlfriend with the man she has been seeing on the side and now wishes to move in. Hilarity ensues, driven by his girlfriend’s perceived financial interest in the flat and the glamorous blonde unfeasibly returning as the love interest for his new, wild, post-death life.
Author Max Nowaz has had some success with elaborately plotted fantasy novels but veers here into an unlikely genre mish-mash. Farce, being one of those genres, relies on the plot working like a machine to make up for two dimensional characters. Refreshing though it is to see it tried, this machine gradually starts to rattle. The first act does well despite its outlandish plotting, thanks to some stalwart character comedy from Alex Pitcher as John and Nicola Mae Begley as Mrs Short the maid, but thereafter the pace slows, the structure wobbles and the plot’s loose ends flap around in the wind. Scenes end randomly and on the press night the audience, unable to figure out when the interval was, appeared at one point to be staging a walk out.
However, with a one act version performed in 2013, ‘Cheating Death’ is arguably still a work in progress; viewed as such, there is much to keep alive. The interplay between the stock characters creates good situation comedy and running jokes. While there’s nothing new about a maid that keeps making tea, a sexually inhibited British bachelor and a Russian blonde that drinks vodka shots, their foibles are easy to enjoy. The cast, gleaned from the final year of The Poor School (as is the play’s Director, Sophie Wilson), lack confidence in places, often killing the pace by trying to milk their laughs. Despite the longueurs, there is a fun and free-wheeling narrative to build on, and nothing much wrong with the production that rehearsals couldn’t put right.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Sophie Wilson
Cockpit Theatre until 10th March
Previously reviewed at this venue: