Colder Than Here

Laura Wade

Soho Theatre

(2005)

Review by Philip Fisher

Since Evelyn Waugh wrote The Loved One, comedies about death and funerals have been pretty thin on the ground. Suddenly, the first few weeks of 2005 welcome two, both of the highest quality.

First the National Theatre revived Complicite's A Minute Too Late and now we have Laura Wade's Colder than Here at Soho.

Margot Leicester's Myra has bone cancer and life expectancy of 6-9 months. Hardly a cause for laughter, one might think. For this feisty lady in her fifties, it is the start of a number of "projects" and a source of rich comic possibilities.

Naomi Wilkinson's set may be a surreal mix of living room and wood with trees growing through the carpet but Myra's typically middle class family are scarily normal in their eccentricities.

Pretty Jenna (Anna Madeley) looks like a sad-eyed puppy. She is a constantly unhappy, recovered bulimic who likes swearing and bad men. Her sister, Georgia Mackenzie's Harry, is happily married but struggles to achieve humanity or accept her mother's interest in every facet of her death and funeral.

Last but not least is father, Alec. Michael Pennington plays an indecisive man uncomfortable in any company, who is shocked and bemused by his womenfolk. He is much happier listening to Brahms than addressing major issues, even a boiler that remains unfixed for four months. Strangely, as it finally starts working, he thaws.

In the first half of this 90-minute play, the comedy is rich, which can prove a little disconcerting for the more straight-laced members of the audience. As the dark day draws closer, the search for a burial plot becomes more pressing and the cardboard coffin turns up. Gradually, Colder than Here becomes far more reflective and will draw tears.

The development of the family members rings true. Myra remains mentally strong as her body weakens. Her daughters move in opposite directions. As Jenna finally achieves maturity, it is she that has to support her father and sister, having had them thrown on to her by the wonderfully wilful and manipulative mother.

With its strong cast and sure direction from Soho's artistic director, Abigail Morris, Colder than Here is a wonderful introduction to the work of Laura Wade and its bittersweet combination of morbid black comedy and heartrending pathos is a pleasure. She is a lucky lady as even before this play closes later in the month, her next one, Breathing Corpses, opens Upstairs at the Royal Court.