Review: Leopardess, VAULT Festival

We are gathered here to mourn Sarah M Anson after her “untimely demise” surrounded by her nearest and dearest. This untimely demise of Sarah M Anson is however quickly overshadowed by the various funeral attendees we meet, all of whom are as bonkers as the last and all of whom are multi-rolled by the talented protagonists, Rosie Abraham and Rosie Frecker

Upon entering The Vaults Festival’s Studio we are greeted mournfully by Abraham and Frecker as they hand out funeral programmes and tissues–the latter genuinely appreciated as it is a chilly night. This, combined with the underground space we are in (hence The Vaults) which is reminiscent of a crypt, sets the scene and we feel we are really attending a funeral–albeit a somewhat farcical one. 

I can guarantee the following 60 minutes that ensues are nothing like any funeral you will have ever or will ever attend. From sing-a-long hymns to a seance there’s never a dull moment.  

Audience participation is not suggested but insisted upon–much to the horror of the couple sitting next to me who look as though they’d rather be at a real funeral than being made to chant “Peter piper picked a peck of pickled pepper” with a mad priest. I however do feel this works to keep the audience engaged even if their alertness does stem from fear.

The service begins with a nod to tragi-comic classic Four Weddings and a Funeral as Abraham reads an excerpt of Stop All The Clocks, finding grief in every word and milking it beautifully. This amusing, melancholic lament is quickly cut short by the dazzling entrance of Reverend Ro Hooley an eccentric, excitabled young woman who makes my ears ring when she speaks.

Later we also meet Simon Handle, “like the composer”; Simon’s mother, a godly woman/church busibody; a low budget Poirot who holds a tash to his upper lip with a pair of tweezers and an old man who stumbles in mistakenly and begins to talk about the war – somehow it is only the latter that begins to feel like too much of a cliché. Although each character brings a distinct new energy, I do feel a slight lapse between some of the transitions. When in doubt – or to allow for a more complex costume change – we meet a 4 year old flute player, played by Frecker, adorned with leopard print ears (now I think about it, the only reference to the play’s title that we ever get). Given what Frecker is clearly capable of, as proven by other aspects of his performance, this character could’ve been more exciting. 

Both Abraham and Frecker are clearly adept in multi-rolling. The character that makes me giggle so hard I spill my water on my notebook is Abraham’s Simon, the ex boyfriend of Sarah. Abhraham’s physicalisation is such that Simon doesn’t even need to speak for me to know what he will sound like and when he does speak it’s exactly as I imagined if not more hilarious. With the audience in the palm of his– probably very well pampered (Bert’s Bees? No, L’Occitane)– hand he tells a surreal tale involving a well and a handstand and Abraham’s delivery is so sincere we believe every word.

The humour of the show is a very British, very awkward humour that sometimes makes the audience laugh out of sheer discomfort. Abraham and Frecker master the power of the pause, they’re not afraid to make us wait and their confidence pays off, there is laughter throughout. There are moments, particularly towards the end, where the two seem to be a little too confident, finding themselves rather too amusing and I see a few snatches of corpsing before they can regain themselves but, overall, they are truly believable. 

I came away from the show thinking what a shame it is that funerals aren’t always that fun.

Leopardess is playing at Vaults Festival until the 30 January. For more information and tickets, see the VAULT Festival website.