Unpacked, Funeral Games (aka Idyll - A Comic Lament)

Review in Issue 19-3 | Autumn 2007

Unpacked are surging ahead of the pack, guns blazing, with their third production in as many years – a treat of a show (now) called Funeral Games, a two-hander about masculine identity and male relationships played by Darren East and Gilbert Taylor. I liked it so much I saw it twice – work of this calibre from a company so fresh and new is a rare beast.

Unpacked have made their mark as purveyors of ‘new puppetry’ – and, although there’s no actual puppets, the essence of puppetry pervades everything onstage. There’s representation of a human character by object – a photo of the absent father whose menacing presence directs the action. Then there’s the very interesting use of objects as representations of other objects/spaces: a pair of filing cabinets form the key scenographic lynchpin of the piece, twin towers that are clunked and clattered, clambered upon, and dragged to the ground as they represent, say, a bunk bed (with the help of a prostrate Darren East perched precariously across both, forming a human bed-bridge) or (this being a funeral parlour) a coffin.

There is also a very interesting dynamic in the physical play between the two characters, where one is often literally manipulating the other like a puppet. This is extended to play with the audience, as one audience member finds himself playing the ‘dead’ father and another (given a ribbon to hold) discovers that she is a horse pulling a hearse.

It’s early days for the show, but it feels on solid ground. There’s superb performances from both actors, an imaginative use of objects, and a clever use of light, sound and space.

The performance circles around some pretty heavy themes in its investigation of sibling rivalry, taboos around death, and the residues of childhood abuse. But Unpacked never forget that comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin; there are sinister undertones lurking with the ghosts in the shadows, but always there is humour to ease us through.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Festival
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. May 2007

This article in the magazine

Issue 19-3
p. 29