Edinburgh Fringe 2011
A simple idea kick-starts the plot: a undertaker is frustrated by the fact that nobody in his village is dying. Rather than being some sub-plot from the latest Russell T Davies drama, it just means that everyone around is far too healthy to be interested, or even interred in the undertaker’s own plot. When an unexpected accident suggests that he can engineer his own business, what follows is a quick, clever and inventive hour.
It’s entirely without dialogue, and the company, by use of switching masks and costumes (sometimes impressively quickly) kaleidoscope through a multitude of characters, presenting various little stories – blossoming romances, tough debt collectors, and long-married couples who spend their days jogging together.
The company’s inventiveness in differentiating between characters is a joy to behold; and it’s surprising to discover that there are no female performers in the show, since the female characters are played with just the right degree of swing and lightness, without ever descending into caricature – quite a neat trick when you consider that all the characters are pitched quite broadly anyway.
Fast-paced, very witty, this is a constantly engaging hour full of cute little scenes that, in the main, involve long set ups for the sake of a perfect punch line. Case in point, one sequence involves a love-lorn character carefully prepare a picnic for the object of her affections. The pay-off isn’t particularly clever, but it is smart, and very funny. There’s a gorgeous sight-gag that would take too long to explain here, but simply involves someone entering through a door. The simplicity and brevity of the joke is a signature of the entire production: there’s no joke here that requires an overly complicated set-up (or, indeed, any dialogue whatsoever), but everything feels well-oiled and well-timed, like an impressively performing machine.
As the cast take their bows, the evidence of your eyes seems to indicate that there are only three performers, which will test your credulity, since the costume and mask changes happen so swiftly and effortlessly, it seems that that there must have been at least two more people on hand. A word must be put aside for the masks themselves, so beautifully designed and painted that they appear to be capable of independent expression: a well-timed inclination of the head at an audience member’s guffaw of laughter looks for all the world as if a static mask is raising his eyebrow at us.
Laugh out loud funny, and silently witty.