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The Worst Was This review at Hope Theatre, London – ‘bloody, messy and imaginative’

Ben Clifford and Lauren Hurwood in The Worst Was This at the Hope Theatre, London. Photo: Andy Field
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Bloody, messy and imaginative, The Worst Was This is an Elizabethan horror story riffing on the theory that Shakespeare’s plays were actually authored by Christopher Marlowe. Part of the Hope’s Gothic season, the show is a slice of modern Grand Guignol silliness featuring the ambiguous post-apocalyptic setting and cheerful cannibalism of Jeunet and Caro’s Delicatessen.

Wannabe playwright Will becomes the public face of disfigured, hermitic Chris, hiding out in a pub run by three strange sisters with a sideline in corpse-reanimation. It must be said that the plot barely develops beyond this set up, despite its layers of betrayals and overlapping love triangles.

Matte O’Brien’s script is tightly written in lavish iambic pentameter, full of quotes, jokes, and broken sonnets. As director, O’Brien gives his cast freedom to play with these rhythms, so the language feels richly musical but never overwrought.

The performers handle the text skilfully, revelling in the show’s humour and absurdity. Sarah Barron is particularly memorable as morbid elder sister Agatha, hardened by loss and war, vulnerable and unhinged beneath her no-nonsense exterior. Meanwhile Beth Kovarik alternately seethes and fawns as she struggles to retain her place as Marlowe’s muse, finally exploding into a furious soliloquy that seems equally tragic and triumphant.

The costumes, by Vari Gardner, are lovingly realised: a punky collision of textures and time-periods, corsets and stained teeshirts, leather boots and shredded lace. The overall effect, as with the play as a whole, is strange and striking, shallow but intriguing.

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Entertaining horror comedy, stitched together from quality parts, but lacking a vital spark