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Drop Dead at Drayton Arms Theatre | Review

The setting is one of possibly a thousand plays, possibly more: a unique set of circumstances means there’s a gathering of people, some of whom know each other very well. Some others are acquaintances, and still others are relatives of those who know each other well and find themselves being introduced. But the long history between certain characters, combined with having to spend an extended period of time in one another’s company, leads to all sorts of secrets being revealed. In turn, the revelations allow characters to see one another in an entirely different light.

Drop Dead at Drayton Arms TheatreThat said, it is one thing to rehearse a funeral, but it is quite another to rehearse one’s own funeral: and yet, a quick Google search (as ever, other search engines are available) reveals it has been done before. One ‘rehearsal funeral’ involved friends and family attempting fake crying, some apparently doing better than others. Wikipedia even has a page about ‘living funerals’ – in Japan, the practice of elderly people having living funerals extends far beyond getting ‘everyone’ together to imagine what it would be like if one had already departed. There’s an ‘ending note’, which can be detailed enough to include details about possible hospice care, and the guest list, flower arrangements and preferred coffin, as well as the details one would reasonably expect to find in a last will and testament.

I haven’t bothered asking around, but I would imagine the concept to be a controversial one, at least in Blighty. In this play, Will, an unseen character throughout, leaves his entire estate to a sole beneficiary. But as it is pointed out, Will’s will (so to speak) could yet be amended. His wife, Penelope Anastasia (Madeleine Clark) isn’t the said beneficiary, to her horror, and sets about plotting and scheming to persuade Will to change his mind. There’s Celeste (Flo Lunnon), a medium, who commendably maintains her claims to be in communication with various spirits right through to curtain call.

Ralph (Noah Tucker) is pleasant but nonetheless easily led, while Alistair (Paddy Court), Will’s groundskeeper (Will is a man of considerable wealth) doesn’t quite convince when he describes himself as illiterate – he is, at worst, aliterate, capable of reading but rarely if ever doing so for pleasure. Ralph’s twin, Sam (Tara Farquhar) is a more grounded character, though there are skeletons in her closet too. The twin’s father (or is he?), Gareth (Alexander Bittar), adds to the chaos, and thus to the fun of the show, while maintaining a very natural rapport with the audience.

Briskly paced, the script has gags aplenty, most of which are genuinely amusing. Containing the kind of vibrant energy that goes well with its youthful cast, the action gets quite physical on occasion, in more ways than one. The comic timing is excellent, particularly in an early scene with the characters’ dialogue intricately overlapping one another. It’s certainly one of the liveliest funerals I’ve ever seen, second only, I think, to watching footage of people dancing in the aisles at Shane MacGowan’s funeral as a band played and sang ‘Fairytale of New York’. The plot isn’t entirely watertight, but this is nonetheless a gritty and laugh-out-loud production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Drop Dead
One Funeral. Six Strangers. A million-dollar inheritance is at stake. Planning the rehearsal for his funeral, Mr Bebach thought uniting the ghosts from the past seemed like a good idea. But sometimes it really is best to take things to your grave. Leaving no gravestone unturned, how far are they willing to get one final favour from a dead man?

After a highly successful Edinburgh Fringe Run, Drop Dead, a newly devised dark comedy, is headed to the Drayton Arms Theatre in South Kensington this January!

2nd – 6th January 2024

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