I Know Where the Dead Are Buried
24:7 Theatre Festival
Sacha's Hotel, Manchester
Oldham-born Matthew Dunster has worked as a director and writer at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Contact Theatre, Shakespeare's Globe, National Theatre and many others, and so is something of a celebrity entry into this year's 24:7.
I Know Where the Dead Are Buried opens with flatmates Dave and Colin discussing whether to attend a mysterious meeting, which, it soon becomes clear, is of some kind of local fascist organisation. Colin is keen but Dave isn't sure, but when they return, Dave is all fired up with enthusiasm and Colin is having doubts, which are picked up as weaknesses by local leader Harry when Dave invites him round. Harry asks Dave to look after his self-harming daughter Candy as he drags Dave deeper and deeper into the organisation and as Harry's personal life crumbles, but when Sean arrives he calls into question who is calling the shots and what their true motivations are.
This is a very tightly-scripted and intense piece that very cleverly hints at the fascist and racist motivations of the characters while rarely stating them overtly and shows a process used by extremists to drag vulnerable people with a very narrow outlook on the world into their organisations through clever manipulation of the truth to direct the blame for perceived (usually exaggerated) problems in the modern world on a narrow section of society that can easily be intimidated.
Laura Keefe's direction never lets the pace slacken for a moment, and there are terrific performances all round. Guy Hargreaves is wonderful as the awkward and easily-led Dave, along with Tony Hirst's unstable, manipulative Harry, Rachel Austin as Harry's daughter Candy, James Quinn as a calmly-sinister Sean, Daniel Hayes as Colin and a brief appearance from George Bukhari as Anwar at the end.
It isn't perfect—an attempt at combining halting hyper-realism with more lyrical, poetic speech near the beginning is a bit clunky, the ending is a bit odd and unconvincing and there are some strange lighting changes from lighting designer Richard Owen—but overall this is a very impressive and disturbing piece of theatre.
However the question has got to arise of why a successful writer at the level of Dunster is entering a play into this festival which, despite its open entry policy, really exists to give a platform to new writers and new actors. On the one hand, it gives the festival a certain amount of prestige that could benefit the other writers involved and puts a very good play on the schedule, but on the other hand, has it taken a place that could have benefitted more another, less-known writer?
But taken on its own merits, I Know Where the Dead Are Buried is a play well worth taking an hour of your time to see.
Reviewer: David Chadderton