The Liverpool Theatre Festival continued with Deathly Confessions, described as “a series of chilling dark comedy monologues” and staged at the Bombed Out Church (my new favourite live entertainment venue within the city!). It was presented by Break A Leg Productions, and written by the combination of Emma Culshaw and David Paul.
The show consisted of four parts, with each of the central characters telling their own story, seemingly communicating with the departed. First up was Thomas Galashan as Luke, an Irish-born World War II soldier who, prior to being sent to France, had been caught up in a brawl with the husband of a married woman in an attempt to save her life, but ultimately one which took away that of his male counterpart. His situation took place on the night of May 6, 1941, the very night that St. Luke’s Church was bombed as part of the May Blitz. Secondly, we had Samantha Alton; she played Jade, a Scouser born and bred who was paying tribute to her departed friend Jamie ahead of his funeral. Jamie had left her gifts as she recapped their history, from meeting at school to him coming out as gay to his terminal cancer, and she blamed herself for not returning home from the United States sooner, even if Jamie was the one who had reassured her that everything would be okay.
Then we met James Templeton and his rather eccentric thespian character Oscar Johnson, who was visiting the gravesite of Harvey Christopher Hamilton Smyth, a theatre critic who he had once been friends with. We learn that after a scathing review from his assumed pal, Oscar tried to get revenge by planting a peanut in a cake for him to eat, not realising the severity of his nut allergy, and he was overcome with emotion while humorously discussing their issues over the years. Finally, Crissy Rock played the role of Wendy, who had lost her twin sister Margaret via a car accident. Nevertheless, despite the clear family conflict that the two had endured over the years, Wendy believed she should have talked Margaret out of leaving her comfort zone and heading out for a date, rather than allowing her to take an unusual yet seemingly progressive risk that led to her demise.
All four stories were very unique, making it easy to differentiate between their experiences, yet they all shared the same feeling of guilt, whether that be not speaking up and not getting more involved when they had the chance, or actually being directly responsible for someone else’s death. The dark comedy nature meant that the show could go quite far in tone, with an example being how Oscar Johnson believed there was a silver lining out of his former friend passing away since he could now perform at the fallen critic’s tribute show on live television with Dame Judi Dench, or Wendy noting how a red Mercedes-Benz car, the vehicle she wanted the most, had killed Margaret, but she simply believed that the car had been sent to the wrong person.
In terms of comedy itself, it was clear from the way that each tale was composed and performed that Thomas Galashan’s routine was designed to be very serious with a few jokes sprinkled in, whereas James Templeton’s routine was largely comical and garnered some big laughs from the audience (the largest attendance for a show thus far in the Liverpool Theatre Festival, incidentally). Samantha and Crissy’s chapters fell somewhere in the middle, with a fair amount of humour mixing with instances of pure emotion. At around 15-20 minutes per quarter, the show did not outstay its welcome, and because the stories were so diverse, every attendee will take away something different in terms of a stand-out memory from the performance.
Deathly Confessions is an intriguing and unusual format for a live show, and one that I felt worked very well. I would like to see how this would translate when being presented in a traditional theatre where they could perhaps extend the time to 90 minutes or even two hours, and I think it would be fun to have seen the four story arcs link together in some way (which admittedly would have been hard for Thomas’ opening monologue, as that was set many decades before those of the other three actors). Even so, I enjoyed this performance, and I would recommend it to those seeking something fresh and memorable.