EFR - Reviews of Dead Letter Office

Dead Letter Office

Sat 8th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Benjie Beer

at 10:29 on 13th Aug 2015

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Dead Letter Office, co-written by Marli Siu and Catherine Exposito and directed by Ian Dunn, is an interesting and complicated character drama based around the idea of connecting with one’s past through letter correspondence. In the dead letter office are thousands of undelivered letters and parcels, each one of them with their own incomplete story. Siu and Exposito have used their artistic licence to imagine what would happen if, when the letters are read, their authors materialise before the reader, whether dead or alive. The metaphysical speculation sets the stage for an intelligent interweaving of backstories that gain depth as they are explained throughout the play.

The play begins with James, played by Blair Kincaid, arriving at the office in the middle of the night in search of a letter from his mother sent twenty four years ago. In his stressed and breathy manner he explains that he is adopted, and in search of answers about his identity; but the staff at the office, Niamh (played by Siu) and Ailbie (Matt Swift) neglect to mention that the authors of the letters he reads will come to life around him.

The immediate problem is one of exposition, because this means that the characters that appear are almost entirely unexplained. From the first letter we are introduced to Emily, played with entertaining verve by Exposito, an ‘Essex princess’ waiting for her ‘soul mate’ Tom, a soldier. While the play moves with impressive pace, you are left wondering what you have missed as Emily giggles and tantrums about the stage, swiftly followed by the dour Joanna (Kirsty Findlay) as a watchful journalist and political activist. The story is eventually opened on these characters through a series of flashbacks, though in a piecemeal and not entirely obvious way. While the cast deliver highly committed performances both individually and collectively, the characters become known to us through their mannerisms and the odd philosophically-telling (and slightly clichéd) conversation.

There is a huge amount of potential here for the exploration of identity, and what past relationships and correspondence can mean to us, and on the whole this is largely achieved. The tension between the past and the present, what the characters were and what they have become, is ever-present, and the present relationships between the characters unravels pleasantly, and even with more than one cleverly delivered plot twist.

The main problem here is that Some Company Productions trip over their own philosophical meandering a little bit in the pursuit of plot, and this isn’t helped by a less than inspiring set, leading to only the slightest bit of a flat performance. This show is ultimately an intelligent but flawed character drama, with too many problems with its plot and not quite enough charisma for it to achieve its potential.

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Bethan Roberts

at 11:44 on 13th Aug 2015

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What if a written letter contained a strong emotional impression of its writer? And what if that impression lived on even if the letter was left unread?

Dead Letter Office, written by Catherine Exposito and Marli Siu, brought to the Fringe by Some Company Productions, is at its heart the story of a young man searching for his biological mother. What makes its narrative stand out from the crowd is the unique device of the dead letters office where our hero, James, begins his search, which has something of a paranormal streak. Here, after hours, the senders of missives doomed never to reach their destinations will emerge in phantom form when their posted items are opened, to interact with the staff and with each other. It’s the Night at the Museum slash Royal Mail crossover we never knew we were missing out on.

The concept is an appealing one, and the writing throughout is competent and sometimes shows a sparklingly witty edge. The acting is on the whole very strong, bringing likeable and well-realised characters to life, even when those characters, as in the case of enamoured Essex girl Emily, rise only slightly above the stereotypical.

Unfortunately, there are problems with the narrative on quite a fundamental level. These seem to arise from a tension between trying to say something profound about ambition or love, and producing a paranormal mystery with a Hollywood-style plot twist. The script contains the potential to execute either brilliantly, but in trying to do both it does neither as well as it no doubt could.

There’s a great pay off for some of the audience’s questions in the play’s finale, but there’s still a lot of things that never quite make sense. How does James know his mother sent a letter to him? Why did she post it knowing it wouldn’t reach him? Why do the janitors in the dead letter office seem to routinely open people’s private mail?

The show is far from a disaster; indeed, it remains entertaining and intriguing to watch. Nonetheless, it seems it will require some work to form a cohesive whole that whilst mysterious and emotional nonetheless has a clear identity and internal logic. There’s much to like about Dead Letter Office, but in its current incarnation it seems more like a tantalising glimpse of its concept’s potential, whilst being far from a fully realised and finessed vision.

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