Corpsing battled against major setbacks to create a show with real strengths.
Corpsing has had a rough time of it. Before the show the two directors, Charissa Cheong and Olivia Railton, came onstage to let us know that nearly half the cast had dropped out in recent weeks for health and personal reasons. Among the stand-ins were Cheong and Railton themselves in significant parts – this has clearly been a labour of love for them, and they should be proud of their performances. However, it was clear that much of the cast was new to the script, as slow pacing and low energy throughout was to the detriment of some genuinely funny moments.
Written by students Shameera Lin and Jamie Hancock, Corpsing introduced 26-year-old Christina (Cheong) at the moment she died – and mistook the sound of her heart rate monitor flatlining for her alarm clock. Corpsing was full of sight gags and one-liners like this that brought dark subject matter and humour together; once they began, I realised how deeply ridiculous the whole business of death can be. As Christina watched her parents (Olga Adhikari and Lucian Morie) struggle to arrange a funeral that would bring her mother Parveena’s Malaysian Hindu family and her father Marcus’s white British (and intensely Anglican) family together, she found herself in increasingly absurd situations involving the disconcertingly upbeat people working in the funeral industry. Both funeral director Peter (Toby Stinson) and ‘cool priest’ Vikram (Clancy Peiris Jr.) were more interested in impressing Christina’s family than doing right by Christina, so the already strange practices of preparing a corpse for burial and staging the funeral itself became completely bizarre.
In this way, though, Corpsing did ask some interesting questions. The one that lingered with me the most was: are funerals actually about the dead, or are they about the living? At Christina’s second funeral, her aunt Angela (Railton) and uncle Anand (Jonathan Chan) gave self-indulgent readings that seemed to have nothing to do with Christina herself. Throughout the play characters argued that they knew what Christina ‘would have wanted’ but it was clear that nothing they were doing represented Christina herself. This became particularly poignant when it was revealed that Christina was more estranged from her parents than I had expected and that they had no idea how to deal with the fact of Christina’s sexuality (I won’t make any jokes about skeletons in the closet here).
Corpsing also finds humour in the way that both sides of Christina’s family deal with her death. One inspired move from Lin and Hancock was including jokes that Malaysian audience members understood and enjoyed, but that were lost on monolingual me. Parveena finds comfort in her Malaysian family, while Marcus plays the part of the ‘grief-stricken English man’ in the only way he knows how – by getting plastered at his daughter’s funeral. Sometimes jokes like this went way too far over the top, however. Marcus’s exaggerated drinking became very distracting, and the otherwise impressive sound and lighting seemed used to ill effect when there were actual cricket sounds in an awkward moment and Christina’s friends emerged from smoke and green lighting after getting stoned at her funeral. The lack of rehearsal time with some of the cast meant that some scenes that would have worked at a quicker pace became hesitant and slow, making it easy for them to lose focus or become tonally confused.
Had everything gone according to plan for Corpsing, I think Lin and Hancock’s clever writing and ideas would have been fully evident. That said, it could have benefitted significantly from being shorter or faster-paced; scenes that were really funny or poignant were impaired by how long they took. With luck, though, I believe this will improve for the cast throughout their run – Corpsing has life in it yet.