A Matter of Life and Death

Fri 5th – Fri 19th August 2016

reviews

Emma Taylor

at 23:34 on 10th Aug 2016

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‘A Matter of Life and Death’ is a very good title for the play written by Fred Rosen and directed by Sam Hill. It is a moving exploration of death and what it means to us, yet it is also a blackly comic exploration of everyday life, played out by Simon (Jared More) and his best friend Paul (James Esler), who happens to be Death.

As it is just these two on stage it is a very intense and intimate performance, an intensity heightened by the way the stage set is stripped back to a plain black backdrop for what is mainly a dialogue between Simon and Paul. It is minimalism which works mainly due to the excellent acting of both More and Esler, which is allowed to shine through. The simplicity of the set also plays tribute to this exploration of perhaps the simplest of events in life – death.

For this performance is, essentially, about death, quite literally personified by Paul. The script is, at times, remarkably beautiful, voicing thoughts and ideas which linger long after leaving the venue. The character of Paul – as Death – is gifted with monologues musing on how the thought of death affects our lives, yet the speech is never heavy. We are saved from drowning in what is quite deep philosophical thought with some hilarious one liners which pierce through the musings to make it very accessible. It is, in fact, a fairly witty and comic production. It is darkly funny, balancing heavy thoughts with the grittiness of real life. People are compared to food in supermarkets – all with sell-by dates, Death notes – and God is called up on the phone. The character of Simon and all of his normal recognisable worries (such as his girlfriend’s party) act as a gateway for the audience into the darker side of the show.

It is a moving show which, perhaps, could have been made more so by a deeper character development. The tragedy of Simon would have been more emotional had the audience been better invested in the character, and this lack of character development also extends to Paul/ Death. What does Death do? What is the point of a human Death? Perhaps this lack of character investment is purposeful, to make it almost abstract and thus more applicable to us.

All in all, then, a great performance – a dark comedy tinged with a melancholy. A kind of everyday poetry at the Fringe?

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Jessica Cripps

at 09:28 on 11th Aug 2016

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Remove the set, and a director leaves the actors and script to speak entirely for the production. Director Sam Hill took a risk when he removed the entire backdrop the day before their first performance, but the decision was a tactical one. Leaving the actors undefended opens up a dramatic duologue that flirted with comedy, poked cheek and oozed with intelligence.

Paul and Simon are pretty normal young guys until Paul turns around one day and tells Simon he’s Death. Not only is that a pretty bad omen in itself, but he is about to come knocking for Simon.

The strengths of this play come from the quiet energy of the actors, and it is a testament to them that what could have been a quickly tenuous subject is pulled off with clarity and vigour. James Esler is strong and brooding as Paul, and Jared More carries off the trying intricacies of portraying emotional trauma with ease.

What makes the performance is Jared More’s face when he learns of his character’s fate: he completely captures the necessary disbelief at the ridiculous things his friend is claiming, but also the pure terror as it dawns on him that Paul might just be telling the truth.

However, the explanation into Paul’s backstory is reminiscent of an Edward Cullen-esque inner turmoil that fails to impress. A lot of the promise hinted at in the originality of Paul’s character remains disappointingly unfulfilled. Perhaps writer Freddie Rosen lingers too long on his ideas, and they became stale in being overthought.

With such an intriguing topic and promising cast, it is a shame that Rosen’s script has not ironed out all the creases yet. Cleverly structured on moving through the five stages of grief, most of Rosen’s script is strong, utterly believable and demonstrates his promise as a playwright in pushing a refreshingly calm perspective on the age old human question of mortality.

Cup of Brew Production’s is fresh, dynamic and philosophical without becoming trite. The audience’s intrusion on a very personal conversation between two unlikely friends is raw and emotional, and will certainly give pause for thought. Just a little tweaking would make a gripping performance utterly flawless.

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