A review by Carmen Nasr for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Anarcadia Productions in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre presents



Beating Heart Cadaver


By Colleen Murphy


Directed by Anna Morrissey


Finborough Theatre


3 – 18 April 2011



It would be somewhat reductive to simply label Colleen Murphy’s provocative play Beating Heart Cadaver a black comedy, as many descriptions out there have done. Although it does, at its most basic level, function on the fluctuations between humour and dark tragedy, its dramatic fabric is weaved with a much more sophisticated layering. Not usually one to disappoint, the Finborough Theatre’s Monday and Sunday production takes full advantage of this complexity, delving deep into the play’s multifaceted terrain.

An acerbic merging of wry humour with the raw pain of grief, the play also ventures into the surreal, the psychological and the physical. Slowly piecing together a landscape of suffocating tragedy following the death of a child in a car accident, the play centres on the little girl’s family attempting to cope with the ruthless and brutal aftermath of death. The child’s mother Leona oscillates between shock, anger and unbridled sadness, momentarily haunted by the conviction that her daughter Amelia is merely hiding somewhere in the house. Murphy predominantly steers away from the sentimental and emotionally indulgent, throwing the audience deep into the darkness of mourning, only to yank them out again with an impeccably crafted dry humour. An emotionally turbulent theatrical journey, the relationship between the comic and the tragic gradually becomes more intertwined, with some of the play’s most humorous moments evoking a truly oppressive sadness.

Director Anna Morrissey, with the help of movement director Lucy Cullingford, works a subtly effective physicality into the performance, harnessing the textual focus on the exploration of the human body and its destruction. The play’s symbolic motif of grief in the form of a metallic red balloon blown up by Amelia hours before her death, is cherished by Leona for holding Amelia’s last breath inside of it, and handled in such a way by actress Jennifer Lee Jellicorse that it seems to take on its own haunting physicality and movement.


Running in repertoire with the theatre’s main production Bed and Sofa, the play is also performed on its set, a decomposing soviet era Moscow flat. Initially the set felt somewhat accidental, but towards the end, its oppressive decay proved to be an appropriately atmospheric double-up. The cast deliver solid and intriguing performances all-round. Mary Roscoe is disturbingly macabre as Lola, a representative from the Parents of Young Accident Victims of Canada, and brings a dose of the surreal and highly amusing to proceedings. Her suitcase opens up to reveal a glittering shrine to her deceased son, complete with plastic figures to re-enact his final moments. Maggie McCourt is brilliant as the wry and dead-pan grandmother Min, doing justice to some of the play’s best lines.

The production mostly stays true to the bravely unsentimental tone of the play text, although in its final twenty minutes or so, Jennifer Lee Jellicorse as the suffering Leona felt a little too emotionally indulgent, at times tipping the production’s tantalizing balance a little bit too close for comfort towards the sentimental.

An overwhelmingly atmospheric piece, Beating Heart Cadaver is a powerful production, rich in content, aesthetics and performance, and it delivers its aching narrative with a trembling and painfully complex sadness.



office: 0844 847 1652


Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED

7:30 pm Sun & Mon

£13/£9 Concession

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