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Beyond the Grave
Etcetera Theatre
10th August 2018

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for Beyond the Grave

Photography provided by Falling Pennies

In any fringe festival there is a welcome place for slapstick, and Simon Godfrey's Beyond The Grave goes the whole hog, taking the audience on a rollercoaster of a ghost story, with impressive plot twists and over-the-top characters. The uptight, sceptical Mr Benson (Ryan Penny) is wondering where that voice (Toni Peach) is coming from. The rather less doubting Katerina (Alexa Hartley) throws herself into the search, with the help of a Ouija board. She quickly enlists the help of the self-confessed incompetent local cop (Darren Latham, who also appears as the groundskeeper).

It may look like fun but putting on such a high-energy farce is no child's play – it requires word-perfect delivery and precise timing to keep the element of surprise, and I'm pleased to say director Georgia Leanne Harris comes up with the goods here. The production feels suitably close-coupled and fast, if perhaps a little wordy in places - if there is anything to say on Simon Godfrey script, it's that some of the longer exchanges could be cut down, in favour of more physicality. In particular, a lot of Mr Benson's lines sounded like pontificating - fitting for the character of course, but there is only so much reminding that the audience needs. It is a notably difficult line to tread - how much awful to write into an awful character - though on this occasion the mixture feels a little too rich.

Peach portrays a perfectly mischievous Voice, cheeky and adept at pulling the couple's strings, and sounds fittingly in charge of the entertainment. Although Hartley is believably other-worldly when it comes to Katerina's interest in the paranormal, she is less credible on an accent level against Penny's suitably pompous Mr Benson - even acknowledging the differences in outlook between the two, she simply doesn't sound posh enough to be his wife. Latham plays a good incompetent local cop, though his double speech impediment does feel excessive. Even in a farce like this where the audience expects the ridiculous, throwing too much of it at one character can cause a distraction, and after a while I found myself drifting during Latham's lines.

If I have anything at all to say about volume or projection, I’m usually stuck with the job of saying an actor doesn't have enough of it. This time I have the opposite problem: in the intimate environment of the Etcetera, the formidable voices of Penny and Latham are too often deafening. Excessive volume can be a useful tool at the climax of a farce, however, it must be used sparingly - there is simply too much of it and it jars rather than complements. Whilst those voices have West End standards of projection and they are impressive, using them too forcefully in a small space can easily come across as aggressive and uncontrolled. In contrast, Hartley and Peach are on the mark for the size of the venue - perfectly clear without overdoing it. Against the high-octane action from the cast, the lighting deserves a mention for being astonishingly subtle - just the tiniest of flicks here and there added appropriate mood to the piece, proving that less can be more.

Talking of subtlety, it is there in other areas, and it provides a welcome break from the noise, to the extent that there could and should be more of it - first prize probably goes to Latham's groundskeeper with his sandwich (I'll stop there - obviously I don't want to ruin it for you). There is clearly a recognition on Harris's part that quieter moments are needed to punctuate the show, and she should take note that these moments got some of the biggest laughs.

A short dance towards the end gives the audience a glimpse of what physical agility there is on stage - I just couldn't help thinking that it's rather wasted in a production with relatively little physicality. If you have actors capable of dance moves requiring considerable strength, can't they be used more?

Beyond The Grave is a thoroughly fun show to watch, and if you're looking for an hour of sheer ridiculousness then this is undoubtedly it. There is plenty to be proud of in this performance, and the company has a good base to work from as it develops the show in future.

Beyond the Grave opened on 10th August and runs until 14th August 2018 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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