The Curious Room’s revival of Mr Kolpert at the King’s Head Theatre
This revival of David Gieselmann’s controversial black comedy requires a strong stomach and the suspension of disbelief, as the audience is dragged through a maze of snake-like twists in an unsettling cat-and-mouse game between two couples and an unfortunate pizza delivery boy.
Mr Kolpert raises more questions than it answers: what are the implications of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? What are the chances of straying into the path of a mindless, deadly threat? And what would you do if you unwittingly became part of its game? Would you make it out alive?
The play’s action churns nauseatingly around a chest in the centre of the stage. Ralf (Edward Fulton) – one of the hosts – jokes that it contains the dead body of their colleague Mr Kolpert. The other couple, Bastian (Damian Lynch) and Edith Mole (Laura Freeman) initially play along, laughing at the absurdity of the notion. As the night wears on, however, the joke grows in our minds and the minds of the characters. Attention becomes entirely focused on the sinister chest centre stage, and the corpse that we’ve become convinced is inside it. Pizzas are ordered, drinks are downed, madness ensues, blood flows with an alarming rapidity: it starts to feel like no one is safe, or indeed sane.
At just over an hour long, Mr Kolpert is a mercifully short piece. In that time the violence reaches a blood-curdling peak and the desire to get as far away from events as possible becomes overwhelming. This is not to discount the quality of the production, however. It is a blistering blast of Absurdist dramedy – a sort of accelerated Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with more blood and vomit and less painfully drawn-out emotion. To have it go on any longer would only have slackened the tension and, as it stands, this concise running time allows for a palpable sense of dread to be felt throughout.
The acting is solid. No single character behaves consistently; flashes of menace rise up and then recede as quickly as they came. Each actor has a full range of personalities running from smooth hospitality to bright-eyed aggression right up to pure, throat-gripping rage. Kate Sawyer – playing hostess and orchestrator of violence, Sarah Kenner – is particularly unsettling. She swoops about the stage in a blood-red dress, perches daintily on the offending chest, and smilingly encourages the other characters’ descent into madness.
But what is the message here? Through the screams and gore and lashings of bodily fluids flying through the air, it sometimes becomes hard to tell. “Decency?” smiles a blood-splattered Edith towards the end. “I don’t know what that is.” Bleak as it is, this is the underlying feeling Mr Kolpert leaves you with – when basic human decency is dulled, degraded or destroyed, even the most unthinkable acts become commonplace. Mr Kolpert is a thoroughly alarming but thoroughly relevant piece of theatre, and The Curious Room deserve high praise for this brave, unflinching revival.
The Curious Room’s production of Mr Kolpert will be performed at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington, London N1 1QN on the 22nd, 23rd, 29th, and 30th July and 5th August. Tickets are available here.