The staging of Naylor’s play here is simple – a couple of chairs and a set of drawers. It places the focus firmly on the two actors playing a brother and sister, Frank and Georgie, in the aftermath of their mother’s death. The chatter is fairly standard between the siblings and it becomes clear there is a subtle rift between them in terms of how close they were to the deceased. However, intrigue is dialled up as soon as the name of the mother’s doctor is mentioned: Dr. Shipman.
In a sense, Let the Bodies Pile is a true crime show. Except rather than an investigative trail of facts and statistics, we look at the infamous serial killer through the experience of a bereaved family. However, it takes on a further layer as we later move to a new timeframe and setting. Now we’re in a nursing home following a bolshy care worker. As the references Health Secretary Matt Hancock, we realise we’ve travelled to 2020 – the beginning of the covid pandemic. As well as a thematic link, there’s also a more literal plot connection through the character of Frank, present in both scenarios.
There is a feeling of unbalance though. The Shipman segment ends up being very much overshadowed by the 2020 scenes. The care worker narrator is also much more captivating (despite being played by the same actor) than Georgie. She is bold, more brash, and shares her bizarre Hancock sex dreams with us (which never really seems to serve a purpose). Her outspokenness also means we get to share her frustrations at the care home crisis, working with no PPE and losing her minds at those in charge who keep making endless mistakes – or cruel decisions perhaps.
The monologues also become a little surreal as we dip into an ongoing nightmare re-enactment. It helps build a sense of intensity and anxiousness as the inertia of the pandemic takes hold and the character is forced into some awful – if slightly unbelievable – dilemmas.
The plays then reaches a point of epiphany – that the real killer in both acts is not a virus or one evil man, but negligence. We see the final years of the elderly as a burden to be organised and ideally disposed of. It’s a thought-provoking idea, but difficult to linger on with other elements of the play acting as a distraction, such as Frank’s last-minute ‘reveal’ that doesn’t feel realistic and, again, the second act-bias in the play’s structure.
It’s performed confidently and many interesting questions are raised, but perhaps an hour-long Fringe slot isn’t quite enough to address such huge ethical quandaries.
Let the Bodies Pile runs until Mon 28 Aug 2023 at Gilded Ballon Teviot – Dining Room at 16:00