Review: Magpie Man Theatre’s Autopsy @ Salford Arts Theatre
After presenting their award-winning Mouth at last year’s Greater Manchester Fringe, Magpie Man Theatre brought their sophomore piece Autopsy to the Salford Arts Theatre as part of this year’s festival.
You might be mistaken for thinking the show was going to be a Six Feet Under affair, what with the posters of the cast in body bags, reminiscent of the memorable marketing strategy employed for Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomania.
The show is an exploration of the bodily. “This is my body” is repeated throughout, demarking transitions: character to character, moment to moment. Some are emotive, some are joyous. All have intention. The writing shines best in parts when the show forgets it’s a show and the authenticity prevalent in the script can breathe.
We’re brought through a kaleidoscope of scenarios and explorations of various bodies. Early on we’re introduced to the Genesis Project by Eden Corp., a new revolutionary service by a seemingly soulless corporate magnate, lobotomising aspirational ‘normals’ who dream of being glamorous ‘Executive Secretaries’. The dry humour puckers our cheeks as it’s laid on thick and fast, a welcome switch from emotive, sombre and often hard-hitting scenes: a prostitute telling us of the men she encounters; swing-singers whose mind and body have become disconnected through Alzheimer’s. As engaging and nuanced as these downward moments are, it’s a wise move to punctuate it with a taste of something different.
And a varied palette it does offer – styles change throughout. Some worked better for me than others. One of my favourites was a hysterical extended dialogue of an overly supportive dad who ‘for information purposes’ forces him and his newly-outed son to watch gay porn together. It’s uncomfortably hilarious and strange, feeling like an Eastenders plot in some alternative universe. This was directly succeeded by a moody physical theatre representation of the weighing of the Book of the Dead from Egyptian mythology. A masked Anubis stylistically births demonic creatures over a moody soundtrack and serious choreography. For me the piece could’ve been much shorter – being one of the most heavily costumed pieces in Autopsy, it perhaps could have used its time on stage more efficiently. We’re thrown into a conceit that, despite not being able to fully settle into itself in the aftermath of such innocent humour, is nonetheless an aesthetically pleasing end to the show.
This show explores the language and relationship of our bodies, others’ bodies and what our bodies do (or don’t do). Magpie Man Theatre brought his unique, sharp pen and flipped expectations by writing genuinely light-hearted, funny and warm pieces. His characters have as much real flesh and ‘weight’ as the performers playing them. They never feel unrealistic, even though the stories might be dramatic or extreme. This piece’s strength is in its characters, how natural their performance is, and how it all hangs on a well-drafted script.