Wednesday, 6 February 2008

D.E.A.D: The Department of Existence and Death, Feb 6, 2008

 D.E.A.D: The Department of Existence and Death, by Company 13
Where and When: Carlton Courthouse, from Feb 6, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Clowns and death are an unlikely coupling but D.E.A.D.: The Department of Existence and Death effectively blends the two seemingly incompatible elements.

Six peculiarly rabbity characters are a motley bureaucratic mob with the unsavoury job of shepherding us into the afterlife. Their antics are chaotic, comical and incomprehensible as they assess the mode of death and apply due process to every human case.

All goes awry when one recently dead soul refuses to give up her darkest secret and is unable to cross into the next life. The band of nutty, after-life conductors are confounded. D.E.A.D. sounds grim but it incorporates classic clown moments and poignant scenes about death.

The show was devised with director James Pratt, and demonstrates the assets and some disadvantages of devising. It has energy and commitment, a strong ensemble feel, individual characters and quirky plot. It also has some unevenness in the level of performers’ skill, some bumpy transitions and missed opportunities for comic business.

What makes the actors look so demented is an elastic strap wrapped around their heads creating buck-toothed, plump-cheeked squirrelly critters. The beauty of clowns doing death is that they can do outrageous things to dead bodies, smack each other with large foam bats and make awful mistakes, but they look like confused children so we laugh and forgive them.

Comic routines are repeated, exaggerated and become more urgent and ridiculous as they contend with their recalcitrant dead person and fail to discover why she just won’t die properly. The God-like head bureaucrat – AKA Nanna – phones persistently, issuing instructions and admonitions to this motley bureaucratic crew.

Meanwhile, the poor lost soul (Kate Hunter) sits at her desk filling out a life questionnaire the size of two phone books. The bonkers bureaucrats mutter in groups, search for a solution or sing idiotic ditties to send her on her way.

No matter how much clown technique others may have, some people are just natural clowns. Kristzian Bagin
is magnetic. Even when doing very little his every glance, flinch and pose is inspired. Glynis Angell creates a poignant moment when she pummels the dead gal and John Forman booms and blusters with style.

There could be a little tweeking of this show but it is a deliciously silly clown’s eye view of the afterlife.

By Kate Herbert

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