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REVIEW: The Beautiful House

By Margaret Chrystall

Emma Anderson and Chris Lee in The Beautiful House.
Emma Anderson and Chris Lee in The Beautiful House.

Play Pieces: The Beautiful House by Emma Anderson

Spectrum Centre

* * * * *

THERE was only one moment in Play Pieces’ The Beautiful House when watching a mortician mummify a corpse was likely to put you off your lunch.

Oh, and I might not look at a strawberry milkshake the same again ...

But anyone afraid that the lunchtime crowd might be grossed out watching actress Emma Anderson gently pulling sausagey intestines from her character Frankie’s former teacher, sister’s husband – and love, was disappointed.

The plot was too good and the characters’ life and death struggles with their emotions was too compelling to waste time feeling queasy.

And anyway, the truth is that the very ceremonial ritual of preparing a body for eternity Egyptian-style was so beautifully-choreographed that it never detracted from the story unfolding in tight, short scenes in front of us.

Emma of Gunshow Theatre wrote, co-starred and co-directed the play with Chris Lee of Wildbird Theatre Company.

Inspired by a Channel 4 programme about the ancient process of mummification, Emma researched death further with a forensic artist, nurse and a heart surgeon, before coming up with the story.

Using a series of time-lines, we move from the present where Frankie muses on what might have been, to the past where Chris as Owen comes to life as the tempted teacher so we can see their edgy romance unfold.

"We could have found our little corner of the world..." Frankie accuses him at one point.

But it’s the transformation of Frankie from feisty school pupil to introverted loner – isolated by her illegal job at the last-in-the-world "beautiful house" in the Highlands – that powers the play forward.

"This work is doing something to you, Frankie," she tells herself.

And the taut tragedy pulls apart love, death and how life should be lived as the living and the dead journey together to the dramatic conclusion.

Profound, funny, cleverly-written and passionately-presented by the two actors, this play reached into you and yanked at the very guts of what we believe life and death are about.

The next Play Pieces show is B Roads, written by Morna Young and David Rankine from Elgin, performed at the Spectrum Centre on October 5. For full details, go to www.playpieces.co.uk

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