The audience at last night’s world premiere of The Reunion (?) were greeted by a corpse, a dimly lit stage regaled in smoke and accompanied by stentorian organ music, but no Toccata and Fugue, just modern classics such as Bohemian Rhapsody, perfectly subverting the seriousness of the musical tone and setting the timbre for tonight’s dark comedy. No corpsing here, and no act dies on stage.
Whilst only an hour long, The Reunion (?) certainly covers a lot of dramatic ground with its repeated pantomime jokes about the funeral home’s proprietors Hearse and Cloak – it’s a pun, oh no it’s not (it’s just their names), farcical constructs (so many characters and only one corpse), Ortonesque exposures and surprises, and (spoiler alert) as the drama builds to a classic whodunnit finale, this play will make you jump out of your skin.
The play is carried by the double act of Hearse (Angus Moore) – the straight man – and Cloak (Tom Saer) - the off-beat comedian - and whilst I enjoyed this character, I would have liked the performance to have been a little less eager and a bit more Igor. Five additional characters then arrive at the funeral home to visit the corpse and incidentally elucidate both their, the body’s and the funeral home’s back stories. Kathryn Cussons channels Kate Middleton as the deceased’s wife, Sunny Roshan is the corpse’s partner, Bernard Visser is his business partner and Joe Capel plays a needy priest with some dodgy bona fides and dubious biblical references.
The opening of the play felt a little slow and clunky, no doubt struggling under its own premise and the need to introduce five mourning characters in a very short space of time, but once into its stride and rhythm the audience were carried along by the simple, repeated, comic and effective monologues given by each new persona. Here I particularly enjoyed Sophia Goettke’s performance as the deceased’s daughter, which was at once an over-blown caricature of your typical American student and, on the other hand, self-deprecating and in knowing collusion with the much appreciative audience. And all these monologues were underpinned by dramatic lighting and music thanks to Will Hayman’s work on lighting design.
The play built to a more rip-roaring pace and easily relatable, farcical whodunnit formula with a complex denouement of characters on and off stage, shocks, exposures and lots of laughs. Along the way the drama explored the perennial themes of love, death and money with a number of wide-ranging cultural references from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Gene Wilder’s Young Frankenstein and an unfathomable but hilarious fixation on Gary Oldman.
Overall the writers and directors, Tommy Hurst (who gave himself the onerous task of playing the corpse) and Bernard Visser (who plays the corpse’s business partner), have put together a rib-tickling one act play and have packed a whole gamut of ideas and characterizations into the format. No doubt first night nerves contributed to the slightly uneven tone and pace of this world premiere which will undoubtedly improve as the week’s run goes on and like the play will build to a shocking, tumultuous and overall hilarious conclusion.