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The Exquisite Corpse

Branwen Davies, Angharad Devonald, Tracy Harris, Kit Lambert & Othniel Smith
True/fiction theatre company
Southwark Playhouse
(2009)

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Most of us have played a game of consequences at some stage. You draw a head, fold the paper over then pass it on to someone who draws the torso who then folds it over and passes it to someone who draws the legs etc, revealing a rather unusual creation at the end. The surrealists called this game Le Corps Exquisite which is the inspiration for true/fiction Theatre Company's The Exquisite Corpse. However rather than a piece of paper, in this instance it is scenes written by various writers which are performed in a different order each night.

On paper this sounds incredibly unique and exciting. Five writers have individually written scenes in isolation. There are recurring themes such as death and water as some writers were inspired by the same materials but ultimately they stand alone and come together to create one piece. As the audience are waiting to go into the theatre they are surrounded by objects which represent each scene. The audience are free to move these objects around, thus determining the order that these scenes will play in, so each performance is completely unique. As I said, this sounds great on paper but the execution of it is another matter.

Surrealist work often features the element of surprise with unexpected juxtapositions. They present a distorted version of the world in order to reveal the truth. However the problem with The Exqusite Corpse lies in the difficulty to derive any meaning from what you are seeing. Yes, there are reoccuring themes, the peformances are good and there really are some nice little scenes but as a piece it feels very disconnected and ultimatley somewhat pointless.

Director Matt Peover discusses the infinate possibilites in which the scenes may unfold, yet even if the scenes were told in the same order every night the piece would remain illogical. Believe me, I am not desperate to see a linear narrative with a beginning, middle and end: in fact, it would perhaps be more interesing to take a piece of theatre written with a linear narrative and let the audience jumble those scenes up every night to see what emerges. However when the scenes are already detached from one another, as they are with this piece, aside from it being a great challenge for the performers, little extra is added by mixing them up.

One may think I am missing the point of The Exqusite Corpse and that the very nature of the piece is that it be nonsensical. It is true that the Surrealist movement did not concern itself itself with logical reason or thought, but they did wish to ignite passion in those who witnessed its works and sadly The Exqusite Corpse, despite some interesting moments fails to keep that flame alive.

Until 30th May

Reviewer: Rachel Sheridan