Current Issue #488

Fringe Review:

Essie Barrow and Iskandar Sharazuddin in Post-Mortem

A failed teenage relationship is a breeding ground for questions of fidelity and autonomy in this physically impressive two-hander at Holden Street Theatres.

Young love is hyperbolic, fraught with questions and failures that its subjects aren’t yet ready to take ownership of. Fresh from seasons in Edinburgh and Perth, this physical theatre production from Ellandar and 45North delves into the sticky, blame assigning dissection of a failed teenage relationship. This isn’t a love story, instead it is about growing out of naivety and confronting past mistakes. Beautifully performed by Essie Barrow and playwright Iskandar Sharazuddin, Post-Mortem is a quirky and buoyant exploration of emotional intimacy.

Alex and Nancy meet in biology class while dissecting a pig’s heart, and fall into a whirlwind romance. Years later they are brought back together for a mutual friend’s wedding. They begin to dissect what went wrong with their relationship. As the pair reflect on their personal failings, new details come to light that challenge each of their perspectives about the failed fling. By confronting these unresolved questions and the grudges they still hold, Post-Mortem interrogates the fallibility of memory and the urge to justify past choices.

Physical theatre is an ideal medium to explore the visceral and difficult to express nature of teenage love. When words fail, movement takes over to convey both the power of connection and the trauma when things fall apart. But this is a production that isn’t in touch with the limitations of its medium. The subtlety of naturalistic acting, paired with expressive dance translates into a plot that is difficult to grasp. The first 15 minutes feel like a relationship speed-run, filling in the skeleton of a romance but never truly fleshing it out. Meanwhile the minimalist set design and simple costume are beautifully appropriate for physical theatre, but can’t sustain a plot that moves rapidly between the past, present, and dream sequence with little to orient the audience.

Post-Mortem was developed from a previous work by the same playwright so while individual parts are structurally strong, it is a Frankenstein of new and old perspectives that feel somewhat inconsistently stitched together. While the characters are specific and relatable, there is so little context outside of their relationship that this feels like a generic romance. Alexander’s monologue is a strong highlight, cutting through the many inconsistencies of his character. The production is very ambitious with its themes of bodily autonomy, fidelity, and obsession, but ultimately these issues feel shoe-horned in and are left unresolved. This work needs further development, and would benefit from dramaturgy, but the overall quality of the play shines through.

The romance between Alex and Nancy feels believable, and the performers work well together as the relationship moves from a playful fling to eventual animosity. This is an enjoyable performance, particularly for fans of physical theatre. The dance is beautifully integrated into the changing tone of the central relationship and adds emotional context to the acting. Post-Mortem is a funny and endearing work of accomplished physical theatre, if one that ultimately struggles to unpack its more complex themes.

Post-Mortem was performed at The Studio at Holden Street Theatres

Until 23 February


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Jess Martin

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