“I’m scared that I’ll die in this town and they will play Frank Sinatra at my funeral!”
Death is a major preoccupation in Lucy Catherine’s hale and hearty Sea Life which opened at London’s Hope Theatre last night.
Or, perhaps, as the American’s might say, it ponders “the whole post-life package,” wrapped in a dark satire that dips its toes in the shallows with an enviro-comedy that also ponders the collapse of family values, civilization as we know it, the cult of hero worship and the decline of our coastal resorts.
Oh, and the fathomless behaviour of one particular group of siblings who are akin to the Adams Family with their inbred weirdness.
Grown-up twins Bob and Roberta – also called Bob by her brother – and their older brother Eddie, live in a small community that’s teetering on the edge – literally.
The family has been there forever. Their grandad famously entertained the crowds on the pier, ran a pub and earned the nickname The Hero for attempting to swim the English Channel – with a plate of sandwiches on his head in case he got peckish. In the event he drowned, drunk, overweight and ill-prepared for the squally weather.
But now, due to coastal erosion, whole chunks of the cliffs are falling into the sea and threatening to take with them the cemetery which contains the bones of generations of families.
Eddie is busy digging them up before they depart this mortal coil for the watery depths, while Bob and Bob conduct ad hoc funeral services in their pub and dispose of the remains in a makeshift crematorium at the back of the building.
An American funeral chain think that Bob is running their franchised state-of-the-art UK branch which includes a complete “after death package” and shopping mall where you can buy everything for the dead in your life.
But it’s a bit more basic than that. Their furnace has broken down and the bodies are beginning to stack up. Even great uncle Boris is waiting his turn.
Roberta does her best by disguising the crumbling coffins, that are propped up in the public bar, with tablecloths but there’s no escaping the smell of decay – and, peculiarly, rotting seaweed.
Time is running out. The volatile Eddie has just dug up his 213rd body and it’s clearly beginning to unhinge him. He snipes at the twins, jealous of their closeness, and drinks too much. We learn that he had tried to escape small town life by going to art college in London but returned a failure.
So now he’s a gravedigger and getting perilously close to the grave that contains the remains of their mum who died 10 years earlier.
Roberta, an agoraphobic, won’t leave the pub and spends her time telling wild and improbable stories to imaginary customers while the needy Bob can’t function without the closeness of his twin. They even sleep in the same bedroom.
All three of them are anchored to their past. They’re desperate to be free but are unable to break the ties until a catalyst forces the trio to confront their fears.
Eddie brings home mum. The first night audience craned their collective necks as Jack Harding manhandled the coffin to centre stage. We knew that there’s wasn’t a real body in there. There’s wasn’t. Was there?
The funereal humour in Sea Life is as salty as a sailor with the impressive Harding getting some of the best lines. “We’re descended from murderers, prostitutes and drunks. This town is rotten to the core! Let’s party!!” He yells during one fevered rant.
“Death is like life. People have different ideas when it starts,” he expounds. And later: “We’re not a normal family!”
Both Bob and Bob – Vicky Gaskin and Chris Levens – are splendidly eccentric as they flounder to cope with life after death, lost in an ocean of indecision and despair, wrecked by their upbringing at the hands of an aloof mother and absent father.
Sea Life is macabre, original and ridiculously funny. The wonderfully surreal imagery from Lucy Catherine’s final scenes won’t be quickly forgotten.
Sea Life runs at Hope Theatre, Islington, until June 11.
Sea Life, at Hope Theatre, swims against an ocean of mediocrity to surface with a wonderfully original, surreal & black comedy from playwright Lucy Catherine.