Cheating Death is the first play by Max Nowaz, who has previously written and self-published a couple of novels and a book for children. It started life as a one-act play performed in Bedford in 2013. Rather than write a second play, Max decided to expand his first into a full-length piece of dramatic writing, as well as setting up his own company ‘First Time Productions’ and producing it himself.
The acting company plus director, Sophie Wilson, consists of five former students of The Poor School, who were all there in its final year, 2018.
The play follows the story of John, pronounced dead after a car accident, but who wakes up a few days later to discover, amongst other things, that his long-term girlfriend has been having an affair for six months and hopes to move her ‘new’ boyfriend into John’s flat straight away, a premise that gives many opportunities for humour in this ‘black comedy’!
The director has decided to use Pinteresque techniques in her production, especially the use of pauses and ‘silence’. Indeed, the most amusing moment of the play was when there was such an extended silence that the whole audience assumed it was the interval and began leaving the auditorium!
Frankie Hyde-Peace was the most successful at achieving rapport with the audience. Her role of a Russian ‘immigrant’ whom John has dated online allowed her to use a pseudo-Russian accent with obvious glee and she acted her role with great confidence.
Nicola Mae Begley played the ‘Patricia Hayes’ role of the charwoman Mrs Short, who in the play is responsible for ensuring that John does not die a second time! She portrayed this totally stereotyped figure with gusto, even if her acting was in a different style to the naturalistic way the other roles were portrayed.
Lucy Beresford was totally natural in her role of John’s ex-girlfriend, Karen, and made the most of her dialogue.
Jake Botterell as Jim, Karen’s new boyfriend (and later the Russian, Victor) was at his best in his scenes with John, the boyfriend who has cheated death, and whom we find apparently dead in a coffin in the opening minutes of the play. In this role, Alex Pitcher clearly understood what the director was aiming for, using lots of pauses and line ‘stumbles’ to enhance his characterisation.
This production was clearly a ‘workshop’ as there was no set as such, just basic furniture on a thrust acting area masked by black drapes, and no designer was credited. One disadvantage of this was that the stage seemed too large for what was required and occasionally the exits/entrances took too long dramatically.
Lighting was in the capable hands of Jessica Bickel-Barlow and aided the creation of atmosphere as well as focussing the audience’s attention.
Black Comedy must be the most difficult genre to write and Max Nowaz should be commended for being brave enough to tackle it!
Review by John Groves
Waking up in a coffin is a dreaded nightmare for most. Waking up in a coffin at your own funeral to find your girlfriend and her new lover (who she cheated on you with) planning to move into the flat you shared (that, by the way, you own) is probably worse. But that’s exactly what happens to John Jones.
To say John is having a bad day is an understatement. Remembering only a car crash with a hazy sense of having been in hospital, coupled with some exceedingly strange dreams, Max Nowaz’s ’Cheating Death’ is a play packed with dark humour and staged with wit and originality as it follows John’s attempts to crawl back to normality.
Cheating Death is directed by Poor School graduate, Sophie Wilson, with cast Alex Pitcher, Nicola Mae Begley, Lucy Beresford-Knox, Jake Botterell and Frankie Hyde-Peace also all graduates of The Poor School, Islington, London.
21st Feb – 10th March 2019
Gateforth St, Marylebone, London NW8 8EH