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Bodies review at Southwark Playhouse, London – ‘stiff, cerebral, dated’

Alix Dunmore, Peter Prentice and Tim Welton in Bodies. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Two smug and self-regarding middle class couples wring their hands over their past infidelities in Bodies, James Saunders’ rambling meditation on the ultimate futility of life and art.

After a first half spent thoroughly hashing out the context of an impending dinner party, the story gains a little momentum, with flashes of bleak humour breaking through the philosophical rambling.

Director Tricia Thorns works some movement into the static setup, with intersecting monologues punctured by long, meaningful looks. Soon, though, things descend into a sequence of clumsily alternating speeches, hamstrung by the pomposity of the dialogue and the enervating self-absorption of the four characters.

For all that, Annabel Mullion is superbly waspish as frustrated housewife Anne, clinging to a crisp, cruel streak of passive aggression as a defence mechanism, while Alix Dunmore shows a more fragile façade as Helen, drained of faith and hope by a joyless marriage. Peter Prentice alternately patronises and lectures them as insufferable prig and zealous convert to pseudoscientific psychotherapy David. Tim Welton alone has the opportunity to express some passion, getting believably drunk and belligerent as dishevelled English teacher Mervyn, mourning his unremarkable life even as he grieves for a suicidal student.

Alex Marker’s set presents a naturalistic living room split in half by a jagged black fissure. Partially visible beneath the surface, a molecular framework of silver spheres unsettlingly suggests that all the longing, bitterness, and beauty the characters argue over is ultimately just the result of a bunch of atoms bouncing around.

 

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Verdict
Stiff, cerebral remount of James Saunders’ mid-1970s tragicomedy that feels dry and dated
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