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I Know Where The Dead Are Buried Reviewed

Joan Davies is impressed, disturbed and recommends

Published on July 26th 2011.

I Know Where The Dead Are Buried Reviewed

Among 24:7’s one hour theatrical offerings during their lively and unmissable festival is ‘I Know Where The Dead Are Buried’ by Oldham playwright Matthew Dunster 

What Matthew gives us a study of inadequacy, the large and small cruelties of damaged relationships, and the impact of the drive for self-assertion in people who have not learned to live compassionately 

Advertised as a provocative play about racial tension in Northern Towns this is a chilling portrayal of damaged and dysfunctional relationships.  Racial tensions are the backdrop bringing the characters together; the real tension comes from the games the characters play with those closest to them, the drive for self-assertion and the way power shifts every time a character enters a scene.

There’s no dialogue in the first few minutes; characterisation is delivered entirely through the simple actions of getting breakfast.  Dave is obsessive, uncommunicative and panicked when order is abandoned.  Colin is rather more laid back.  Dunster’s northern dialogue, when it comes, is spot on, so it’s brave to delay it: a realistic decision and an approach which builds expectation. 

Colin and David, colleagues and house sharers, but barely friends, allow themselves to be drawn into a far right racist group, ‘the Party’.  Colin distrusts Harry, the political organiser, but David is more easily manipulated, attracted by the feelings of belonging ‘the Party’ can bring and the self-worth the praise of his computer talents engenders.  Harry’s daughter, the self-harming and harmed Candy, arrives to add a new dimension to the power manoeuvres.  

For all their concern about immigration and an imagined threat from ‘outsiders’ it’s the threat from ‘insiders’ their colleagues, family and friends, which damages their lives, throughout their lives. 

With an excellent cast, realistic dialogue, and an absence of predictability, Dunster’s cleverly written many-layered play is powerful, and almost Pinteresque with its air of menace and unanticipated manipulation.  The play is a little too long, well over the expected hour, which creates problems in a multi-site multi-show festival, and the ending needs clearer direction.  These problems may well be resolved within a performance or two.  

The socially limited Dave is superbly portrayed by Guy Hargreaves.  He gets the body language just right.  Daniel Hayes is a very natural Colin.  Tony Hirst’s Harry is highly unsettling and Rachel Austin convinces with her mix of naivety and manipulation.  Local actor James Quinn is superb as Sean, a relatively sophisticated and assured man aiming to present an acceptable face of his ideology.  Quinn allows us to see the fault lines in what is a veneer, hiding an original thug in an impressive suit.

Lighting, sound and design are of an exceptionally high standard provided by Richard Owen, Jenn Goodheart-Smithe and Amanda Stoodley, all with Royal Exchange experience.  Director Laura Keefe serves the material well realising a taut production of menace and despair. 

Perhaps influenced by the anniversary of the Oldham riots and the knowledge that Matthew Dunster grew up in Oldham I’d expected some examination of causes of the riots.  What Matthew gives us a study of inadequacy, the large and small cruelties of damaged relationships, and the impact of the drive for self-assertion in people who have not learned to live compassionately with those closest to them.   

'I Know Where The Dead Are Buried' is performed at as part of 24:7 Theatre Festival.  Thirteen premières of one-hour plays will be performed over nine days, from Thursday 21st July to Friday July 29th across 3 venues:  New Century House, The Midland Hotel and Sacha’s Hotel, where “I Know Where The Dead Are Buried” is performed. Tickets are £8 / £6.  Click here for details.


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