Comedy is a serious business and Nikolai Erdman’s 1928 farce The Suicide takes it very seriously indeed.
In her new version of the play for Storyhouse, Rebekah Harrison transports the story to modern-day Chester. Director Michael Bryher’s production attempts to balance the more serious issues of unemployment, food-bank use, poverty and exploitation with a tone of comic excess.
Simon (Tom Davey) is unemployed and suicidal. His unscrupulous landlord Alexander (Tim Frances) dupes a succession of people into buying shares in his death to aid their own causes.
While the play is supposed to be overtly farcical, Bryher’s production risks tipping into outdated stereotypes in some of its characterisations. This is most notable in the character of Alexander. Frances contrasts brash masculinity with a limp-wristed camp that is better suited to a 1970s sitcom.
While all the characters are treated with such irreverence, it’s still awkward and jarring, and it’s hard to say whether this is intentional.
After the interval, the action recommences in the theatre foyer before returning to the auditorium, a ploy borrowed from Storyhouse’s production of Julius Caesar. Here, however, it saps the play of its momentum at its most pivotal point.
Davey and Natasha Bain are outstanding as Simon and his wife Marie, and Nicola Blackman delivers a very funny turn as Marie’s mother, Sarah, having stepped in to cover the role at late notice. But while the production is often a lot of fun, it can’t match the wit of the source material.