Unholy Ghosts

SBW Stables Theatre, August 30 

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James Lugton and Anna Volska. Photo: Brett Boardman.

Curiously little art about the art of dying exists, and yet we must all blunder our way with more or less grace through the deaths of others and, ultimately, our own. Campion Decent has tried to redress this shortfall with an amusing, autobiographical play about the deaths of his divorced parents.

The central character, Son, is not so much a narrator as a guide on a joy-ride through parental mortality, who also recalls scenes with both parents and imagines other possibilities. He is played with ebullience and even charisma by James Lugton, which is vital, because Decent has painted himself as being peculiarly charmless. This is despite the character’s wit, and perhaps was done to avoid the play becoming maudlin. But had Lugton not added this layer of congeniality we may have been unfussed had it been he who kicked the bucket while his parents rollicked on.

By contrast the writing for Mother (Ann Volska), an ex-theatrical for whom flair is a lifestyle option, pops with good lines like so many champagne corks. Volska, a stranger to the stage for much too long, lives the part to the hilt.

Father (Robert Alexander), is bad-mouthed by Mother and Son, and for good reason. But Alexander, too, has made the character more likeable than the lines suggest, although in this case it rather works against the play until its final phase.

In a town where directing so often labours to draw extravagant attention to itself Kim Hardwick has done the job (for White Box Theatre) with refreshing understatement, as has designer Martin Kinnane. Ultimately there was a stronger play here had Son not been written as someone the parents would be rather keen to escape, but he does soften at the end as redemption hangs heavily in the air. “We all know our parents teach us how to live,” he tells us, “or how not to live, but, of course, I realise now they also teach us how to die.”

Until September 20.