Review: Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Pippa Smith 9 November 2016

If my answer to the question of whether I was sitting comfortably had been a straightforward yes, I would probably have concluded that this production had got it wrong. There is little in Roald Dahl’s short stories that can be called comforting — what makes them so good, even addictive, is their wicked twists, their cruel humour, and their array of characters who, despite appearances, broil with devilish potential.

It was very fitting, then, that for ten or so minutes before Are You Sitting Comfortably? started, I was kept fidgeting. The air was full of the sounds of recorded whispers, persistent and unnerving, with occasional interjections from the voices of children who assured us with sickening sweetness of their ‘secret half-civilised thoughts’. It felt as if dozens of people were breathing down my neck, and I was desperate for those on stage — bare footed, lounging with books on sofas and chairs in mockery of my own discomfort — to start moving. Not that I wasn’t already being entertained just by looking at the set. Apart from the sofa, there was a jam-packed bookcase and a table covered in an assortment of bottles and glasses; the iconic illustrations of Quentin Blake were pinned the wall, eerily lit; from the ceiling hung pictures of disembodied mouths and ears, recalling the book covers of story collections like ‘Someone Like You’. And, against the back wall, a hospital gurney.

And then, finally, it all sprang to life, becoming a stage for chaotic and somewhat gruesome hilarity that produced childish delight at the same time as it stirred adult misgivings. Wives were bludgeoning their husbands, corpses were talking, surgeons were going into gory detail and smacking their lips, and I was sitting in the second row, not bothering to try and smother my laughter. At one point, as actors hurled themselves around the stage in a furiously funny rewind of events, two glasses of wine were accidentally knocked over, and all I could think was how perfectly it captured the play’s messy aesthetics, as well as demonstrating the powerful enthusiasm of the cast. Sardonic smiles were embodied by Mary (Katheryn Cussons) and Anne (Laura Pujos); Eleanor Booton owned the stage in her manic performance as the neurosurgeon, delivering constant spiels of grim, jargon-filled description; even the corpse of Patrick Maloney, played by Jake Spence, was captivating, with his dedication to the part being made wincingly clear every time Pujos allowed his head to roll from her lap and thunk onto the floor.

This was a play that lived up to expectations, and even surpassed them: I didn’t turn up at the Corpus Playroom to sit snug in my seat — I wasn’t there for friendly giants or chocolate factories. I wanted the frenzied creep up my spine and the darkly funny, and that’s exactly what I got. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was thoroughly enjoyable.