Mens sana in corpore sano, said Juvenal (apparently). The best you can hope for as a human being is to have a healthy mind in a healthy body; one’s not that much good without the other. Incubus Theatre’s Something Human introduces us to four people whose lives are interwoven by an office – a manager, a personal assistant, a cleaner and a woman who lives nearby whose daughter has gone missing. But something’s not right. The cleaner is playing too significant a role in the company for her status. When the mother comes to distribute leaflets about the missing girl, it’s to the cleaner that she asks permission – which isn’t granted, and with very bad grace. When the PA finds she’s been seconded to work alongside the manager, it’s to the cleaner that she asks not to be given that role. (Why are you asking me, I’m only the cleaner comes the undeniably fair response). Meanwhile, on the phone at home, the cleaner makes aggressive assignations with random men; whilst the manager is exposed as a sexually predatory domination fetishist, the PA (female) is a paedophile, and the mother has murdered her daughter. In an evening’s entertainment that goes too far, the manager slaughters the PA; after all that, the cleaner is charged with the murder of three men. Something Human is the title – but there’s not much in the way of mens sana or corpore sano going on here.
But that’s the intriguing web of deceit that this play sets up. The final scene shows the cleaner talking through Munchausen Syndrome with a psychologist. This is a mental disorder in which a person repeatedly and deliberately acts as if he or she has a physical or mental illness when he or she is not really sick. But what are the actual repercussions of that fact on the case? One thing’s for sure; the cleaner is mentally unstable. My own interpretation is that the mother, the manager and the PA are all real people, who wander in and out of the cleaner’s life at the office, but that a) they don’t have the mental illnesses or sexual perversions that the cleaner has attributed to them and that b) nor are they dead. Or murderers. I could be wrong here. All’s not as it seems at any rate. And it’s enormous fun to pick up the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the plot and try to place them in a pattern that makes sense! If you’ve seen it, do you agree with my interpretation?
There are some very good performances caught up in the machinations of this play! Jason Pile plays the manager with just the right touch of sleazy middle-management arrogance, on the sneaky lookout for a bit of skirt. He identifies all the areas of the text where he can create just a bit of humour to help fill out his character and you warm to him, even if his character is largely loathsome! A perfect foil for this character is Anya Gallagher’s PA, anxiously expecting a tough interview, tentatively finding her feet in the new role, working out how and when she can start to assert herself in the job. I love her range of facial expressions, you know full well when she’s genuinely interested and when she’s humouring those around her. There was one extremely funny and beautifully played scene between all four actors when the manager and the PA are texting each other during a meeting and the other staff are all too polite to mention it. And there’s also the Grand Guignol scene where Mr Pile emerges covered in blood and Ms Gallagher doesn’t emerge at all; it was a very powerful visual effect.
Emilia Owen brings a good degree of motherly warmth to her role and is very moving in the scene where she begs forgiveness in the church. I didn’t really believe that someone as kind-hearted as her would be capable of killing their own child – and I think, on reflection, I was right! At the other end of the scale, Lori Heather’s tough talking, aggressive cleaner is the stuff of nightmares and it’s a great characterisation of someone who’s lost sight of anything human about themselves. My only slight criticism would be that at times of high anxiety and near hysteria, some of her verbal clarity got lost. I could tell she was furious, but I couldn’t always make out the words that expressed it!
Very nice ensemble work and a great star coupling with Mr Pile and Ms Gallagher. And a thought-provoking play that’s still intriguing me several days later! Congratulations on an enjoyable and challenging production.