Opening Night Review: Britton Mori
Nicole Entin’s play In Memoriam takes a new look at a murder mystery. As you enter the theatre, you are greeted with a simple set, five chairs and a picture of Grace, the deceased. One by one, in silence, the five guests approach the stage, enhancing the mystery, leaving the audience to wonder what has happened. We are greeted with engaging characters, Alice, a seductive writer played by Georgina Savage, Julian, an innocent childhood friend played by Marcus Judd, Carolina Atlee, as Carolyn, psychiatrist in denial of her own issues, Freddie Lawson playing the angry friend, David, and the mysterious Vera played by Denisa Dobrovodova. The most important character of all is the Hostess, played by Alexandra Upton, unnamed throughout the entire play, sharing a striking resemblance with Grace.
Alice breaks the silence of the funeral, asking the other guests, “What would you do if you were God?” As a member of the audience, I was instantly drawn in, asking myself the same question. From that moment on, the play unfolds quite quickly. The audience is taken through a series of murders, one after another, with no answers ever given.
Alice describes the affair between Grace and her, leaving Alice no option but to murder Grace, when she decided she was done with Alice. Julian reveals that to be the plot of Alice’s latest best-seller, but we are left wondering if Grace’s murder was the inspiration behind it. Georgina Savage plays her character wonderfully, diving into her story in a particularly descriptive and melodramatic manner.
As Alice seems to have confused reality with her stories. Carolyn jumps up with her own idea of what happened to Grace. Grace was dealing severely with mental health issues, unwilling to acknowledge what was happening to her. Carolyn’s diagnosis drives Grace to take her own life, unable to handle her diagnosis. The other characters all seem shocked— not their sweet Grace. But Vera, mysterious as always, jumps in, creating the scene again for the audience. The stage lights dim to red, and we fear for Carolyn’s life, as Vera accuses her of being the one unable to handle her own mental health. But David jumps in saving Carolyn’s life, and the stage turns back to the white light.
David has intervened because he believes he knows what happened to Grace. She was struck down by the wrath of God, and he was better off for it. As an audience member, I was shocked, as up to this point Grace seemed so perfect. But David was full of anger toward her, and the way she felt about her life. He wanted her to be dead.
Again, like all the other ways Grace could have been murdered, Vera seems to disagree. She accuses and changes her story around. Who is this mysterious character? No one has ever heard Grace mention her. We watch her hold the play in her hands, taking complete control. The other characters start to doubt everything. When Julian recognizes the Hostess, noticing how similar she is to Grace, a shift happens with Vera. She begins to tell her own tale of murder, a lie as we come to find out, but a murder nonetheless. In almost an instant, we watch her invent the murder, and as with Carolyn, attempt to play it out in front of us with Julian. But no one steps in this time, instead we watch Julian, the sweetest character in the play, fall to the ground unable to catch his final breath.
As we watch innocent Julian die, we wonder why. Is it because he recognized the Hostess as Grace? Or because as Vera said, multiple times throughout the play, ‘there is no motive at all’? As the other characters leave the stage and Vera returns, Nicole creates an enticing scene. The Hostess and Vera seem to know each other, though we are left wondering what is the truth. But that seems to be the whole point, as David exclaimed, ‘I believe my own truth.’ In Memoriam is a play where the audience walks away inventing their own truth about The Hostess and the strange events that occurred.
Alternative Ending Review: Isy Platt
The Sunday matinée performance introduced a slightly twisted ending to the tale. The cast did an excellent job, convincing in their portrayals of a disconnected group of friends left rudderless by Grace’s death. The script played with the audience’s comprehension of what actually took place, leaving us unable to come to a concrete conclusion – was it Alice’s narrative? Carolyn’s urged suicide story? David’s story of divine retribution? And what did Vera have to do with it all? As the character who wove different realities and pulled confessions from everyone else, Vera’s murder of Julian, in this performance, had different consequences. After she left, the responses of the others wavered between overwhelmed confusion and almost apathetic acceptance. After their departure, the Hostess re-entered, and in her final comment to the lifeless Julian - “Two’s company” - seemed to imply they were both dead, and that she was Grace. We were truly left “with more questions rather than answers”, as playwright Nicole had intended, including the true nature of the relationship between the Hostess and Vera.
Behind the scenes insight: Laura Bennie
In Memoriam is St Andrews’ newest student-written production to be performed in the town. Showing as part of the On the Rocks Festival, this intriguing play is a murder mystery in reverse, asking what would happen if somebody died and everyone confesses to mudering them.
I was lucky enough to have some time to speak with writer-director Nicole Entin, who gave me a window into her creative process. With inspirations ranging from Harold Pinter, to Tom Stoppard, to Oscar Wilde it is unsurprising that Entin was driven to write a dark-humoured farce like In Memoriam. She shared that she was fascinated by people and how they interact, and that many of the character’s archetypal personalities allowed for an exploration of this. Entin was keen to emphasise the role that the play’s cast had in crafting their characters. Saying that it was a holistic collaborative process between herself, her production team and the actors themselves to bring the story together.
When I asked the cast about what drew them to this play in particular among all the shows being put up across the university this season and they shared a variety of responses. Freddie Larson, who plays David, shared that it was partly the play being student-written that drew him in, whereas Georgia Savage (Alice) said that the concept of ‘a whodunnit where everyone thinks they’ve done it’ was intriguing. The actors also spoke about the opportunity to originate a role, Carolina Atlee, who plays Caroline said that it was especially enjoyable to take on a character that nobody had played before, there was no pressure to adhere to (or subvert) expectations for who this person should be.
When I asked about their process the actors shared a little about what it was like working with Entin as a director and how she got them to focus on the subtextual elements of the piece. The characters’ backstories and relationships to each other which - even if they remain unspoken - definitely show through in their performances. Denisa Dobrovodova’s character, Vera, seems someone to particularly watch out for. Dobrovodova shared that Vera doesn’t really have a backstory, her origins are much more ambiguous and remain so even to the actor herself.
This tight-knit cast and crew represent a wide range of year groups and subject concentrations, but they have come together to create something truly compelling, I can’t wait to see how the mystery unfolds.