Black comedy is an incredibly hard genre to write. Max Nowaz’s Cheating Death attempts to tackle it with a very intriguing premise but the final product stumbles a fair bit along the way.
It’s 2009 – a depressing financial time for Britain (as projected through a radio announcement over the auditorium) and after waking up from being declared dead days before, John Jones (Alex Pitcher) finds himself in a casket in his living room just before friends and family come over to pay their respects. Moments before his reawakening, a mysterious Russian woman (who we later find out to be Katy, played by Frankie Hyde-Peace) enters the flat, hides a mysterious envelope and disappears. When John does wake up, he is greeted by Mrs Short (Nicola Mae Begley), a woman interviewing for a housekeeping job next door and has stumbled in by accident. After the initial fright, they start to make sense of what’s happened. Moments later, John realises that his girlfriend has been cheating on him for six months and finds his new lease of life a reason to start things all over again for himself – eventually ordering a girlfriend online and meets Katy who is with John for ulterior motives regarding the envelope she left in his apartment at the beginning of the show.
After the first fifteen minutes of this show, my head hurts. It’s not clear where this piece is intending to go and the audience have trouble differentiating prominent parts of the plot to witty one-liners. Nowaz’s writing is hard to follow and the characters seem incomplete. There are enjoyable moments between characters and when the plot seems driven, but it is few and far between. Sophie Wilson’s directing suffers a similar fate. It’s inconsistent and due to this, ends up confusing the audience as to when the interval of the show is – a dozen or so members left prematurely.
However, the performers all have their moments of grasping the audience’s attention and creating some enjoyable moments. Begley’s Mrs Short is a charming, amusing and easy watch – you feel a bit more comfortable in her presence. Pitcher is a good leading man but you don’t really warm to the character of John Jones. Hyde Peace’s Katy is enjoyable farcical and the cast are completed by Lucy Beresford Knox’s overly-stiff Karen (John’s now ex-girlfriend) and Jake Botterell’s Jim (Karen’s new partner).
In terms of its plot layout and dialogue, Cheating Death ‘jumps the shark’ a few too many times and many elements with the direction don’t mesh correctly. The show doesn’t really know what it is yet. Comedy is tricky to master and maybe someone can breathe some fresh life into it next time around?