When You Pass Over My Tomb review – can you really have a playful comedy about necrophilia? | Stage

On a raised disc bristling with fake grass, the Uruguayan writer Sergio Blanco (Al Nedjari) turns himself into the star of his own play as he regales his audience with memories of visiting an assisted-suicide clinic in Geneva. But the artificial turf is about to be pulled from under our feet. Sergio tells us he arranged for his body to be made available after his death to Khaled, a necrophiliac being held at a London psychiatric hospital. As long as both parties are consenting, how is it any different from donating his body to science?

If it seems foolhardy to treat this subject with tenderness, even lyricism, in our Jimmy Savile-haunted times, then rest assured that When You Pass Over My Tomb is a playful exercise that uses Pirandellian trickery and Brechtian distancing to examine its subject in a quizzical though not unserious light. The company of three (Nedjari is joined by Charlie MacGechan and Danny Scheinmann) start out playing their own ghosts, cheerfully describing the manner in which they all died. This irreverent approach sets the tone for an evening that draws heavily on literary forebears (most notably, Frankenstein) as it slips and slides between truth and fiction. As Sergio admits, his plays combine “the facts of my life with facts I make up”.

The nimble direction by Daniel Goldman (here adapting his third Blanco work after Thebes Land and The Rage of Narcissus) is a masterclass in mind over meta. As the writing slaloms around one postmodern hairpin bend after another, he carefully delineates the different layers of reality. It is never less than amusing to see the bones of the play poking out but they can sometimes get stuck in your teeth. Energy expended mulling over the complex structure (Sergio’s clinician admits at one point that he has already read the play we’re watching) eats into our capacity for an emotional response, regardless of the strategic use of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. But it’s still a stimulating analysis of attitudes to matter and mortality – one that doesn’t stare into the abyss so much as give it the side-eye.

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