City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Death Story Review

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 06 May 2008

Show Details
Oran Mor
Alma Cullen (writer) Ken Alexander (director)
Briony McRoberts (Lily), Michael McKenzie (Bernard), Vincent Friel (Marcus)
Running time: 

Alma Cullen is an Emmy and Bafta award winning screenwriter for television series such as Northern Lights, Inspector Morse and A Touch of Frost, but it's only in the last few years that she has decided to turn her hand to the theatre. This is her third play for " A Play, a pie and a pint" at Oran Mor in Glasgow - the popular lunchtime play series which attracts well over 100 people every day.

As a master of TV drama Cullen's forte is dialogue and characterisation creating in an instant, fictional, yet living, breathing, believable people. She also seems passionately interested in observing the drama and intrigue behind human relationships exploring the hidden nuance of romantic encounters, marriage and illicit love affairs. Death Story is nothing to do with murder, but a clever comedy of manners, echoing the scenario of Blithe Spirit. In Noel Coward's witty play, Charles is surprisingly visited by the ghost of his first wife, Elvira, much to the jealous rage of his second wife Ruth.

In Death Story the ghost of Lily, a talented fashion stylist who died prematurely young, re-appears a few months later to check out what her husband Bernard and her close friend (and lover?) Marcus are up to. More importantly to find out what they are saying about her. The story begins in a graveyard where Bernard has arranged to meet Marcus to share memories of Lily. Standing either side of a sarcophagus (engraved with the phrase Veritas Vincit - Truth Conquers), the two men discuss their different and differing relationships with Lily and how they are both planning to write about her in biography and poetry respectively.

Ghosts are the perfect theatrical mechanism to create a chilling mood, to control behaviour and manipulate action. But unlike Coward's Elvira, Hamlet's father and Macbeth's Banquo, Lily's ghost is visible and audible only to the audience. Dressed in glamorous black, the beautifully slender Lily, (played with deliciously clear diction by the beautifully slender Briony McRoberts), perches on the sarcophagus between the two men, eavesdropping on their conversation. She's obviously frustrated that she died so suddenly and furious at the unfashionable design of her funeral ("orange lilies on blue silk and pinks!" ) over which she had no control.

Bernard, a sixtysomething University vice chancellor, dressed in sensible country tweeds, is portrayed with quiet candour by Michael McKenzie, expressing an aura of sadness and loss: " I wonder what she saw in me?" he asks rhetorically, ("I felt safe with you" Lily whispers), as he endeavours to find out more about the regular "little lunches" Lily enjoyed with the youthful, laid back Marcus (Vincent Friel). It's the classic triangular relationship.

Across five intimate scenes neatly choreographed by Ken Alexander, the past lives and loves of Lily, Bernard and Marcus are slowly revealed. Juxtaposed with sharp Cowardesque one liners, there's a darker subtext about truth and trust in relationships lurking between the laughs. This is intelligent, lyrical, literary writing rich in emotional realism - a wee gem of a play brimming with style, wit and elegance. If Alma Cullen can achieve such a magical, absorbing romantic comedy in 50 minutes, I would love to see a full length play of this ilk.

Show times:Monday 5 - Saturday 10 May, 1.05pm to 1.55pm.