Review by Carly Fisher
‘I’d move a dead body for you.’ That’s the ultimate test of friendship, right?
It’s this premise that sets the scene for Kim Bailey’s debut production, Mens Rea, at the Gryphon Theatre this NZ Fringe. More than being just about the clean up process of a murder, the show tackles friendship, toxic relationships, societal expectations of women, relationships and the pressures that we all put on ourselves to just ‘deal.’ It’s a lot to take on in the show’s run time of about 50 minutes but Bailey has infused just the right amount of comedy throughout to carry the show with great pace.
When Wendy (Rebecca Wilson) calls Janette (Roxana Alford) for help, there’s no way she could have expected how her night would proceed. The unwavering friendship between these two is well developed in Bailey’s script and portrayed beautifully by the two actors. I believe that these two friends would do anything for each other. Whether either character would truly have the temperament to deal with a situation like this, I’m not yet sure and I think that with further time spent on discovering and deepening both characters, that aspect of both characters will read with more clarity.
Alford’s comedic timing is a certain highlight in this production and as she skulls some wine to get through the night, you can’t help but think about how many wine-mums there may be out there now that think they have a cool calm and collected plan for murder courtesy of the true crime podcast trend. Name 2 offers some great facial expressions but never overplays - the authenticity with which she drives the character makes her very likeable on stage.
Wilson has a roller coaster of emotions to get through in the short play and she does so with grace and sincerity to her character. One cannot imagine being in the predicament she finds herself in and so in many ways it is refreshing to see her both losing her shit and getting it altogether again in the span of seconds. Name 1 has clearly invested great time and energy into finding this character and the work she has put in allows for a truthfulness to her character that makes her endearing to the audience, despite the blood stains around her.
The set is effective and despite being a black box, Bailey has done really well to prompt the audience’s imagination to believing that this is a crisp and clean white, spacious bedroom. Complete with a bed, a window, a chest of draws, an end of bed table, a hung lamp, bedside tables and a rug, the set was extensive for a fringe show and expertly used the space available to make the most of the great venue that the Gryphon is. The lighting used was basic and more could be done to better utilise this production element, but what was done was executed well. The direction is clear and it was great to see the nuances in those little moments that happen in the middle of a chaotic situation so well executed.
As a first edition of the show, the creative team has much to be proud of here. Yes, it does need some further development to see it jump to its next stage but for a first Fringe, this is a strong starting point. For me, the story is currently missing some essential stakes or a sneaky twist…perhaps that is the influence of the title and powerful marketing image? Whatever it is, I must admit, I went it expecting one more layer to the piece that it still has yet to develop.
With that aside though, it is easy to see how quickly this show will grow to that stage thanks to the talented team behind it, namely, writer and director, Kim Bailey.
Leaving the theatre I am sure that many of the packed audiences have the same thought I do…who would I move a body for? Could I be the friend to arrive with a painter’s suit and a bucket if called?
Let’s hope none of us ever have to find the answer to this question!!