The production of Knackerman at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington is intimate in more ways than one. Firstly the venue: an impossibly warm and moist dungeon at the back of a pub (acknowledged with tongues firmly in cheeks during one charmingly reflexive theatre-within-theatre moment as “parochial”) where the audience is jammed cheek to sweaty cheek with the cast, which has an area of not more than a cosy couple of square metres to play with. And play they do. They seize every staging opportunity within the limitations of the space – gallows ‘n’ all.
Secondly, there are more than enough instances of trouser-dropping and skirt-hoisting to render the production Not Fit For Minors. You’d better thank your lucky stars for the all-encompassing undies of the fifties. Except for in the case of generously proportioned priest Matthias, where a black thong finds itself making its mark forever and ever amen on the already sullied mind of the viewer. #Makemeunseeit doesn’t even come close.
Knackerman is a whodunnit-with-a-difference, written by Rosanna Negrotti and produced in this case by Heidi Ali under the direction of Eliot Giuralarocca, and the cast oozes previous Thespian accolades from every glistening pore. We’re presented with a delectable smorgasbord of loopy characters and slightly dodgy accents which the eyes, ears and humour glands lap up with alacrity. The deceased protagonist, Bill, and his seedy band of fellow ghosts are on a mission to discover who killed Lil, the local “tart”. Can Bill clear his name from the crime for which he was hanged? How is this merry band of cranks connected? Who framed who? Can the hilarious parody of a gay vicar knock Bill’s amnesia on the head? Can any of them stop bellowing at each other for long enough to find out?
The play is admittedly not without its foibles; there are moments of rather indulgent repetition which err on the side of irksome. If this play had been a drinking game, and I had been compelled to drink a shot of something muscular every time I heard the phrase “I don’t remember!”, I would be lying in a sodden gutter addled by a thoroughly soaked mental state somewhere near the Thames at this moment instead of at my computer. I can’t deny that this, in conjunction with the perpetual Potter-esque forehead-grabbing on the part of Bill, prompted the odd twitch of irritation.
That said, there are some choice comical moments – those involving a contentious pair of women’s glasses were particularly successful – not to mention some real corkers in the form of a few t’rrific one-liners. Personal favourite: “The best way to break a man is to get a woman to do it”. She clearly knows her stuff, this Rosanna Negrotti chick.
This brief two-week run comes to an end on 16 June, but fear not – the folk at the White Bear Theatre clearly know a thing or two about putting on a decent show. And they do, on a regular basis. Definitely one to be kept on the old mental radar. And I don’t know about you, but I quite enjoy being in quarters so close that you are flecked with spittle whenever a line is delivered with particular gusto. Not to mention being in the vicinity of actors evidently in possession of a bionic thyroid that’s able to withstand temperatures nearing those on the surface of the sun.
Speaking of dead, and of things coming back from the dead, this might be a pertinent time to mention the fact that Glitterazi.com has risen from the ashes in the form of Dead Curious – the new visage of our arts, culture and lifestyle blog, over which your salacious eyes are currently salivating. So here’s to fringe theatre, life after death, and comic moments involving spectacles and men in thongs. May they never cease to delight.