Esalan Gates is entertained by the Hild Bede Freshers’ Play, Woody Allen’s Death.
The Hild Bede Fresher’s Play is the slapstick comedy Death. The creative use of space, cohesive cast and strong lead in Charis Phillips as Kleinman made for an entertaining evening. The tone of the production is light-hearted and fun, as the majority of the characters are absurd caricatures that each dismiss Kleinman in his attempts to find out what his role is in the plan to find the Maniac on the loose.
The pre-show aroused immediate interest as the audience were not sat perpendicular to the stage, but in a slant so that our view encompassed the catwalk along the righthand side of Caedmon Hall. Later in the production, the cast use the catwalk to give a sense of the characters making their way through the city. A soundtrack of songs relating to death and humanity played in the background as audience members filed in; ‘Killing Me Softly’ was a particularly amusing choice. The play opens with Phillips in bed on stage as a large number of the ensemble pound on the door into Caedmon Hall from the outside. The directorial choice to invert the disadvantages of the venue, such as the lack of wings, and utilise the direct access out of the building to the advantage of the production was very effective. The pounding on the door made multiple audience members jump, setting the tone of the slapstick brand of comedy we were to expect for the rest of the play.
Phillips is onstage for the entirety of the hour-long play and carries the majority of the dialogue, often pausing to soliloquise before meeting another character on Kleinman’s journey through the city at night. Phillips flirts with breaking the fourth wall on multiple occasions, allowing for the audience to enjoy moments of dramatic irony as Kleinman is crept up on and surprised more than once. Phillips’ impressions of the other characters are particularly admirable as she moves deftly between voices, and the irony of lines such as ‘try and be a man for once’ and ‘this is a man’s world’ were not lost on the audience.
Anna Pycock was a convincing domestic wife – also named Anna – as she bustled around the room while Phillips complained at her. A notable moment was when Pycock tied Phillips’ tie for her as Phillips continued to complain and gesture angrily before both actors paused and turned to gaze out at the audience as though looking at the city through a window. Throughout the play, the audience are treated as the empty city, to the extent that it feels as though the Maniac could be among the audience. There are times when it feels as though there is an ongoing exploration of bigger questions threaded through the comic narrative. Phillips’ desperate plea, ‘I don’t want to be involved, I just want to know what I’m supposed to be doing’ comes after numerous attempts to debate the nature of dying and infinity with other characters, and so has a greater weight to it than perhaps is clear earlier.
The comedy is absurd and hilarious. From the unintentional relatability of the line ‘Better dress warm, it’s cold outside’ in this cold November weather, to the slapstick humour of a dead body moving while characters aren’t looking at it, the cast successfully entertained the audience for the full duration of the show, to the point where the ending feels somewhat underwhelming after the energy of the previous scenes. It was heart-warming to read in the Director’s Note the nod given to Simon, their principle who had laughed all the way through; it felt like a unique moment for DST when the cast waved at him as they exited from their bows.
Death is a fun production that includes nineteen freshers in its cast; a wonderful introduction to DST for Hild Bede’s first years. The ensemble worked well to convey the sense of the mad world unfolding before Kleinman as he struggles to make sense of it, and the innovative staging and follow-spot enhanced the audience’s sense that they were at the heart of this dark city that set all the characters on edge.
Death will be performed at Caedmon Hall, the College of St. Hild and St. Bede, on 22nd and 23rd November at 7:30pm.