Red Lemon presents an all-singing, all-dancing tale of lust for the prize
Inspired by the sultry steps on Strictly Come Dancing, my girlfriend once dragged me along to dance classes. I tried to rumba. I tried to salsa. I tried not to trip over my own feet and embarrass myself. I failed utterly.
I learned two important things: that dancing requires rhythm and coordination, and that I have the physical grace of someone recovering from a road accident.
Lack of ability is no barrier for Mrs O’Reilly in Red Lemon’s Flesh Dense. Resolving to win - by whatever means necessary - the Regional Amateur Dance Championship, she robs her rivals of their talent, by robbing them of their legs. The things she does with her bloodied saw would make Sweeney Todd tremble.
Flesh Dense is a manic, macabre romp about the obsessions, secrets and lies of big egos in a little town.
Anyone who has been to a Red Lemon production (Tart, Kissing Marigolds) knows exactly what to expect. Their unique brand of physical theatre is a stimulating blend of Weimar-era cabaret, high camp and low farce, with more than a few nods to risqué romp The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the subversive texts of Joe Orton.
Their productions always pack a punch and Flesh Dense promts fits of giggles and gasps of shock long before the body-count notches up. Sporting a hairdo that makes you wonder if someone dropped the hair drier in her bath, Julie Maxwell’s maniacal Mrs O’Reilly teases waves of titters and chuckles from the audience as she dominates the stage.
That’s not to say that the rest of the characters are wallflowers. O’Reilly’s transvestite son, Peter (played by the burly Padraig Wallace) is a towering presence as the possessive diva, forever making demands of his ‘confused’ boyfriend, Fintan.
Stephen Beggs, surely one of NI’s finest comic actors, plays Fintan as a neurotic, frightened that his secret will be revealed. If he were any deeper in the closet he’d be in Narnia. This role and the scenes between the couple are amongst the funniest in the play.
Similarly Rosie McClelland (who plays Biddy, O’Reilly’s accomplice-turned-blackmailer) is able, almost, to match Maxwell laugh for laugh in the pair’s exchanges.
It is the play’s humour which is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. It’s true that Flesh Dense, with the jokes coming thick and fast, is a much more accomplished comedy than Red Lemon’s previous work. However, the play relies too much upon the camp grotesques physical clowning, becoming a little tiresome long before the 110 minutes are up.
Whatever his directorial choices, Patrick J O’Reilly's script shows more imagination than you’re likely to see all year. But whilst there are hints at serious themes (the injurious influence of parents on their children, the dangers of blind obsession, the ingrained homophobia within our society) the characters are so one dimensional and the script so slight in substance that you just can't take it seriously.
Still, Flesh Dense is an all-singing, all-dancing cavalcade of larger-than-life characters and high camp shenanigans. The musical numbers (arranged by Katie Richardson of rock band The Delawares) create some of the play's truly memorable moments.