Cheating Death at the Cockpit Playhouse Review

Frankie-Hyde-Peace in Cheating-Death

It is with great sadness to report that Soundbite Culture’s premiere theatre critic has taken a severe dent to his usually sky-high levels of mis-placed confidence. This happened after recently being politely asked to leave a performance of a high profile play by a member of the playhouse staff after popping to the loo mid-monologue.

I mean what do these savages want, a well-seasoned critic to disgrace himself in public? To awkwardly shuffle home with damp under-rods as he conceals a suspicious looking dark patch on his beige slacks?

Arrive home to the humiliation of his beloved children pointing at his crotch squealing, with unbridled joy, ‘Daddy has pissed himself again’, whilst in the background, his wife’s sympathetic smile barely conceals a quiet despair at the catastrophic life-choices she has made?

Surely to casually breeze out of the room, dispense and return, refreshed for the rest of the performance as I whistled the theme tune to the 80’s comedy drama Minder was not worthy of such censure?

Ok so yes, I may have accidentally kicked a gentleman’s wheelchair on route. Perhaps I did inadvertently wedge my foot into the seat below as I placed my hand somewhere unfortunate on a nearby lady to steady myself. It was very dark, Your Honour.

Transpires that this sort of behaviour is frowned upon at single act shows where the lead has been forced to realise the director’s vision single-handed, as a consequence of a cost-cutting exercise culminating in all supporting acts being offered voluntary redundancy. The lone remaining player is left to forlornly convince her audience that she is not some kind of rambling schizophrenic; chattering apologetically and holding conversations with herself in numerous voices about her racist parents, but that, apparently, she is in fact a much admired Trans-Atlantic actress of extremely high repute.

Once I would have relished the challenge of an absent-minded shuffle into an insalubrious room; trying not to disturb the smart looking fellow laying to rest in a wicker coffin, he in turn trying with all of his might not to twitch his itchy nose.

Now I fail miserably to be discreet, clattering my way to a suitable seat with all the elegance of a medieval knight in full armour, battling the debilitating effects of a chronic middle ear infection. On arrival at my chosen spot, next to the exit so mid-show emergency toilet expeditions can be attempted, I carefully settle in to enjoy the fringe theatre black comedy that is Cheating Death at the Cockpit Playhouse in Marylebone.

Tickly face subsided, the deceased lies peaceful in a sparse apartment. A mysterious girl walks in and leaves a letter in his cookie jar. She leaves to be replaced by another, Mrs Short, a woman seemingly unaffected by the popular modern day convention of the front door, she has sasahyed in off the street to attend an interview for a vacant housekeeper post. It turns out that the vacancy is for a job in the flat next door but unperturbed she decides to stay and keep her new friend the corpse company.

Our coffin dweller John then wakes from his death slumber and frightens the bejeezus out of Mrs Short, who doesn’t run screaming for her life, or attend her actual appointment, but instead disappears stage left to make a nice cup of tea.

John’s scheming girlfriend, Karen and her lover Jim then wander in, canoodle and make carefree life-plans in what they clearly perceive to be their new home, as an adjacent non-stiff listens in intently to his betrayal.

The ensuing reveal of John’s dramatic awakening is a tad inconvenient for Karen who takes the news of her partner’s renaissance far worse than that of his apparent death. Not only has she now been caught cheating but the imminent and tastefully rendered makeover to John’s man cave is now somewhat on the back burner.

Stir in a pinch of organised Russian mafia style capering and you have the premise of Cheating Death, a frustrating play written by Max Nowaz.

Fringe theatre is such a noble pursuit that it is difficult to be critical of productions when budgets and facilities are set so low.

Unfortunately, the most positive thing I can say about Sophie Wilson’s disjointed production was that I managed to make it through the show without being ejected, a personal triumph for my bladder and pelvic floor.

The script feels laboured, with some whopping gaps. Many of the one-liners are telegraphed and the dialogue is glitchy, particularly in the initial scenes where there are numerous pauses between lines. Almost as if the whole shebang is not fully rehearsed.

The staging and direction are muddled. Characters wander on and off stage with no purpose, we never find out what really happened to John and scenes involving a Russian girl and her sinister boyfriend are not adequately resolved, irritating when the play comes in at the two-hour mark.

Despite this the ensemble perform well with what they are given. Particularly Frankie Hyde-Peace, who effectively plays to the crowd as Katy, the mysterious Russian who appears in the second act as a mail order companion for our jilted John.

It’s all a bit of a shame, somewhere in amongst the confusion lies a story. So, whilst enjoyable at times and despite being played by a likeable and engaging cast, Cheating Death mainly feels a little like an opportunity missed.

Frank Gardiner

Leave A Comment

Dates ‘n stuff

March 2019