Wife After Death

May 27 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆      Nuanced

Inverleith St Serf’s Church Centre: Thurs 26 – Sat 28
Review by Thom Dibdin

St Serf’s Players return to the main stage with a nicely controlled production of Eric Chappell’s dark comedy, Wife After Death, at Inverleith St Serf’s Church Centre for three performances only.

There is an unusual level of naturalism to Jack Paterson’s direction which, while it keeps the volume levels on the quiet side, does ensure that the comedy doesn’t feel forced. It is only as it enters its final denouement and the revelations start to build, that the laugh lines become more overt.

The production revolves around comedy writer Harvey and his wife Vi, who are in the front room of Harvey’s recently deceased long-time partner in comedy, national treasure David Thursby. Harvey writes the words, Thursby delivers them. Or he did.

Rona Munro (Standing) with Alison Carcas, Moira Macdonald and Susan Garlick. Pic St Serfs

Thursby’s body is lying for viewing in an open coffin on the sideboard ahead of his funeral. Family and colleagues are congregating on the lawn outside, but only those closest to him are allowed to enter this inner sanctum – agent Kevin and Kevin’s wife, Jane – while Harvey’s widow, Laura, fusses in and out.

It is a situation which, in Rising Damp writer Eric Chappell’s hands, is ripe for gently teasing apart; for examining the relationships which made David tick. Or at least using the very different ways that those closest to him viewed him to illuminate the man who Thursby was.

This demands a great deal of nuance from a company – at least if it is not to play the whole thing for the laughs and the revelations. It is to Paterson’s great credit that he has decided to go down this more subtle – and ultimately satisfying route. And, it must be said, something of a relief.

Graeme Lobban as Harvey and Alison Carcas as Vi are on stage for nearly the whole production. Both create easily believable characters, fleshing out what could be rather skeletal bones and, though never spelt-out, creating a strong understanding of the relationship between the two characters.

nicely rounded

Lobban is maybe not quite as bombastic as some of Harvey’s lines might indicate, but his self-centred character is a nicely rounded expression of a man who isn’t quite sure of himself and hides behind his words as a consequence.

Carcas as Vi is his complete antithesis. Silent, poised and always there with a wise word to keep him on the right track when it really matters. It’s quite the most understated performance of the whole piece and is a beautifully recognisable portrait of woman who has the measure of her husband.

Both actors suffer to a small extent from the overwhelming size of their roles and are a few performances short of being completely off the book. The prompting is discernible, but far from intrusive. It does rather dictate some of the blocking, however, and it would be marvellous to see them completely at ease with their scripts.

Graeme Lobban, Moira Macdonald, James Peat, Susan Garlick and Alison Carcass. Pic: St Serfs

There is less domestic naturalism for the rest of the cast. James Peat certainly creates the most avowedly comic character here in Kevin, who is sadder that he has lost his most lucrative client than for the loss of a friend. Moira Macdonald does well to give some depth to the initially underwritten Jane, who does come into her own as the drama progresses.

There is not a lot to Laura Thursby, but Susan Garlick ensures that her background presence keeps things going along. Rona Arnott is suitably pert and slightly aloof as the rather over-dressed mourner, Kay – the disruptive element who wanders into their private session of not quite expressing any grief.

All are helped by a well constructed set, subtle lighting and suitable sound design from the combined forces of Trevor Garlick, Keith Grady and Glen Sutherland. You can easily imagine the unseen spaces beyond the confines of what is visible on stage.

different levels

There is a great deal of comedy to be had here, on several different levels. St Serfs’ reach the most homely of those levels, and pull off the surprises and twists with great alacrity. All the actors finesse their characters’ revelations very well indeed, providing a believable consistency throughout.

There is potentially a lot more to be had out the script, however. Chappell quite pointedly allows for some pretty dramatic character assassination of the late comedian – an avenue which the company don’t venture to explore in any great depth.

Instead they concentrate on getting the gentle laughs of the domestic nuance right, with the twists an extra spice. And in that end they succeed, marvellously.

Running time: Two hours (including one interval).
Inverlieth St Serf’s Church Centre, 1a Clark Road, EH5 3BD.
Thursday 26 – Saturday 28 May 2022.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.


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