Melbourne Comedy Festival – Necrophilia

Don’t be fooled by this deliciously named one-act play “Necrophilia” by Aussie writer Lincoln Vickery. This tightly written dark comedy, directed by Ben Ashby, is making a return season at the 2024 Melbourne International Comedy Festival after winning Melbourne Fringe Judges Pick in October 2023. Whilst humour is derived from the awkwardly taboo subject matter, this play has a sensitive side. There are no visually disturbing scenes and the play treats all characters with respect as humans trying to cope with their bizarre situations.

The play opens in a morgue, with a sheet-covered cadaver on a trolley. The Motley Bauhaus Theatrette’s small stage and bare bricks perfectly conveyed the feeling of being in a cold basement mortuary. Darren (Declan Clifford) and Mark (Gene Efron) are in mid-conversation whilst preparing a body for viewing. The contrast between the usually unseen business of “making dead bodies look hot as shit” and the desensitised workers bickering about a “victimless crime”, especially when we realise that Darren has just confessed to feeling a rush when defecating in a certain street near his house under cover of darkness. He cleans it all up immediately, he explains, so, whilst technically a crime, no one gets hurt. He also explains the origin of the fetish – an accidental experience accompanied by unexplained pleasure that then becomes a fascination and a repeated behaviour that reinforces the rush.

These themes of fetishism and its origins and whether or not they affect others are explored within this play, and the quality of the writing really shines – there is no dull moment and lots of laughs. If you have come for the comedy, you won’t be disappointed. Vickery doesn’t miss any opportunity to bring out the hilarity of the situations in which he places the characters. For example, bumping into your boss at a sex shop, walking in on your boss dancing in a blissful moment of private surrender. However, the treatment of the underlying themes brings substance to this play.

Amanda (Gillian Mosenthal, who also produced this) is the necrophiliac and boss in question and the only character who reveals her insecurities directly to the audience. Instead of judging, we are invited to journey with her in her struggle and shame. I was impressed with the attention to psychological detail in the writing, particularly with the reveal of Amanda’s childhood trauma. Vickery has done his homework on this psychiatric condition. But there is no schmalziness here. It’s just a fact.

The minor characters shed more light on the question of whether necrophilia is a victimless crime. The recently bereaved daughter starkly contrasted with the mercenary med student who rents out cadavers to fund her studies. “Dead people are tools. I don’t care what you do”. Both characters were ably played by Joanna Halliday, who stole the scenes with her fearless performances.

However, the exploration of loneliness and the desire to connect in the face of shame draws us in. The actors have a lovely chemistry that brings the relationships to life. They really care about each other, and so do we. A developing romance between Mark and Amanda is at the heart of the narrative. But will it withstand the shame?

Come and see Necrophilia for the laughs, but you will be in grave danger of taking away a dose of heartwarming humanity.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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