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Beyond The Grave at the Etcetera Theatre | Camden Fringe | Review

Beyond The GraveWhat does happen Beyond The Grave? Whatever goes on there, it must be pretty good: nobody comes back from the afterlife having decided that, after all, living on Planet Earth is more favourable. That’s the sort of level of suspension of disbelief required in this show, which seems to revel in ridiculousness. It’s hammy, it’s very silly, but it works. When a gravedigger (Darren Latham) tells Mr Benson (Ryan Penny) that he doesn’t have a designated employer but works full-time as a gravedigger anyway, several questions arise. What happens, for instance, if the landowner of a burial plot does not want his services? Apparently, he tends to the graves anyway. This kind of detail is highlighted here as though saying something about plotline holes in other plays, while at the same time encouraging its audiences to go along with proceedings, even if they don’t entirely make sense.

Mr Benson has purchased a deconsecrated church which is to be converted into a residence, which, surprisingly logically (given the zaniness elsewhere in this production) explains why he owns a graveyard. He encounters The Voice (Toni Peach), who can’t, or so she says, determine whether she is a ghost, as opposed to still being fully human. But Benson’s wife, Katerina (Alexa Hartley) insists on using a Ouija board, even when The Voice can already be audibly heard by her. The results are, perhaps a tad predictably, positively farcical.

Wilkie (also Darren Latham), a policeman, wants to launch an investigation into the existence of a ghost. In this strange parallel universe (if I may call it that) it is the type of call the police can spare resources for. It wasn’t clear how he ended up with both rhotacism (that is, difficulty in pronouncing the ‘r’ sound) and a lisp. Nonetheless, there was, I think, a missed opportunity to get Wilkie saying anything that would heavily exploit his speech patterns to comic effect, for instance, “I really like rock and roll on the radio”.

That said, this is a show that doesn’t always go in for the punchlines, relying instead on creating a narrative that with jokes and asides that can only be fully appreciated in the context of the show’s setting and characters. A refutation of DNA as admissible evidence is, for instance, not something that would ordinarily have me chortling in the stalls. Performed as well as it is here, with a cast as talented as this, it passes muster by the sheer ludicrousness of the line of argument.

The observational comedy is, truth be told, first-rate. The pretentiousness of what is written on certain tombstones is usually a taboo subject, usually because what is written just might, however odd it may seem, have special significance for the deceased’s family and friends. But Benson muses that his tombstone would read, amongst other things, that he was “a handsome man with a Johnson the size of Tower Bridge”. Elsewhere, irrational circumstances lead to irrational actions, which only vamps up the humour even more.

This is a show that very quickly had the aura of the Scary Movie franchise, which was more about lampooning the horror genre rather than trying to scare people. So yes, it’s suitable for the fainthearted. It’s suitable for anyone up for a laugh. And it’s suitable for those who like to see a small-scale show in a pub theatre punch above its weight. A fast-paced and energetic production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

There’s something strange afoot in the cemetery behind Mr. & Mrs. Benson’s house. A voice is calling out from the darkness claiming she doesn’t know if she’s dead or just drunk. As an amateur spiritualist and owner of a Ouija Board, Katerina Benson is determined to prove they’re being haunted. But her husband, the ever sceptical Mr. Benson doesn’t!

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