by James Saunders.
Southwark Playhouse, the Small, 75-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD to 9 March 2019.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Tues & Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15 mins. One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: William Russell 15 February
Fear of the dark and raking over the ashes of the past
A West End hit in 1977, this is the first revival of Bodies in 20 years. Saunders’ play has survived the passage of time without losing any of its power – one or two moments reveal its age, especially, and it raised a laugh, the line about the bottle of scotch costing £4 – and this production directed by Tricia Thomas could not be bettered. The performances by the four strong cast are outstanding and the play remains a witty and devastating look at marriage, death and the meaning of life, and if that sounds that it is likely to be an evening of doom, gloom and despair think again. It is also very funny. Saunders’ dialogue sparkles with wit and these troubled souls in their own ways are also survivors.
It deals with two couples, Anne and Mervyn, a headmaster, and Helen and David, a businessman, who have not met for nine years. In the past they had affairs with each other’s partner, but duly returned to their original one. Helen and David went to the United States, but have returned to live in Esher. Mervyn has invited them to dinner in Ealing where he lives with Anne for reasons that are not at first clear, athough they have kept in touch in the Christmas card sense over the years.
The first act is set in both living rooms and consists of a series of monologues in which we learn what has happened to them during those nine years. It ends where many a play would end – Helen and David arriving on the Ealing doorstep. In Act two you find out why Mervyn is distraught – one of his pupils has been seriously injured in a motor bicycle accident. The boy, a troubled adolescent, had brought him a book about self help to read which, it turns out, is about the primal scream therapy that Helen and David have undergone in America to help lay their demons. Mervyn’s demons are rampant and he drinks more and more as he torments his guests trying to get them to explain the therapy they have undergone, how it helped them and gradually you realise it is because he needs it too.
Tim Welton gives an amazing, exhausting and exhilarating performance – his drunk scene is amazing in the way it builds up power – but for all the fireworks he generates he does not overwhelm the others. Peter Prentice’s David, complacently assured that he has found safety, has given up the business rat race and is content with where he is now stands up to the onslaught brilliantly. Alix Dunmore as the equally self assured Helen, and Annabel Mullion as the embittered Anne, also knocking back the scotch, are more than a match for the men. The result is a battle of wills, words and ideas to relish, an evening to remember.
Anne: Annabel Mullion.
Helen: Alix Dunmore.
David: Peter Prentice.
Mervyn: Tim Welton.
Director: Tricia Thorns.
Set Designer: Alex Marker.
Costume Designer: Emily Stewart.
Lighting Designer: Neil Brinkworth.
Sound Designer: Dominic Bilkey.
Production Photography: Philip Gammon.