Home » London Theatre Reviews » Dead End presented by Subtle Paws at the Vault Festival | Review

Dead End presented by Subtle Paws at the Vault Festival | Review

Dead EndRetaining the character names from Treading Water from Vault Festival 2018, Dead End at Vault Festival 2019 has Sue (Kathryn Gardner) and Carol (Chloe Wigmore) working alongside each other. Well, it’s a broad definition of ‘working’ inasmuch as they seem to have more than their fair share of downtime, but they are aware of what they need to do as cemetery workers – ‘gravediggers’ doesn’t quite fully describe all they do, as there is some maintenance of existing graves to be done as well. Then there’s Lance (Paul Collin-Thomas), responsible for the rest of the local parish church grounds.

The mischievous nature of Sue is not unlike something out of Last of the Summer Wine, messing around with Lance’s tools in his shed – never stealing them outright but moving them around so that each working day, Lance discovers a tool or two that isn’t in its rightful place. This is, of course, frustrating and pointless, but the humour is in Lance’s conclusions as to what is going on, and the resultant actions he takes to try to get to the bottom of things.

The play deviates from the usual practice in contemporary plays of building up over time to a critical incident which suddenly and irrevocably changes the course of the narrative considerably. Having discovered something untoward in the cemetery (the critical incident) within the first few minutes of the play, Lance puts a call into the police, but they seem to have had quite enough of his regular calls about seemingly trivial matters. The long and the short of it is that whatever went on and whatever is going on (it’s too much of a spoiler to provide further particulars), if he wants the matters investigated, he’s got to do it himself.

Eventually, in the final minutes of the play, Carol asks Sue outright why she bothers doing what she does (in terms of messing about with Lance’s tools). There is no reply; in my mind, it is simply to relieve boredom during the working day. Perhaps to reflect how slowly time passes during this particular shift, the show itself is a very slow-burner. This, I regret to report, does not make for great theatre, and neither does Lance’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Not all the punchlines landed successfully with the audience at the performance I attended – the show’s setting doesn’t exactly lend itself to raucous laughter, and there’s one gag about badgers which left me rather baffled. There’s good use of the performance space, and a momentary breach of the fourth wall worked well. This production has a gentle sense of humour, which is refreshing in a world where so much comedy these days veers towards aggressiveness or domineering.

All things considered, it felt like a series of events that took place, nothing less and nothing more, as opposed to a fully compelling piece of theatre. The comic timing is commendable, but the play feels incomplete, particularly as it ends abruptly. As it stands, I wouldn’t quite call it absurdist, but it is certainly unconventional.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Death’s pretty funny when you think about it. Not funny ha ha you understand. Funny weird. Mostly. Maybe it’s the start. Maybe it’s the end. Or maybe Jon Bon Jovi was right and you really do just sleep when you’re dead.
Sue and Carol’s job is to dig. It’s not that exciting. And it’s certainly not very glamourous. You kick the bucket, they dig a hole. And before you know it, you’re pushing up the roses. But what are dead people doing kicking buckets? Do they kick it with the same foot that is in the grave? Are they wearing the clogs they pop? How do you pop a clog? And is the bucket just full of the dust they bite? Or are there roses in that bucket? Oh, and are you only pushing up the daisies if you’re too poor for roses?

Following the success of TREADING WATER, DEAD END is a sharp and funny play that explores life, death, love and racist badgers. Subtle Paws is the theatre company of writer and performer Kathryn Gardner and this is her third year at VAULT festival.

Part of Let’s Talk @ VAULT Festival with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
Writer: Kathryn Gardner


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