"A sensitive, enlightening look at grief"Hillary Qui with permission for Varsity

In Toni Renz’s Swear It On His Graves, Ada and Chris – wife and brother of the recently deceased Matt – steal his corpse and travel to a remote Scottish island to fulfil his lifelong wish. Matt wanted to become a ‘bog body’, a corpse preserved for generations in the acidic conditions of a peat bog. The process of doing so leads to revelations about Matt and about the workings of remembrance and grief themselves.

“A palpable sense of something left unsaid, which they masterfully portrayed, drove the play.”

Huge credit needs to go to Coco Lefkow-Green (Ada) and Alex Thompson (Chris). Aside from Chris’ eulogy of Matt (beautifully delivered by Thompson), the play consisted entirely of conversations between the two. To a basic point, both actors knew their parts very well and the performance went off without a hitch. Their chemistry was also immaculate; they managed to convey both the mutual compassion that grief encouraged in their characters, and the tension between them, rooted in Ada’s secrecy. A palpable sense of something left unsaid, which they masterfully portrayed, drove the play. Also, in some post-show sleuthing, I discovered that they were both putting on Scottish accents, which were flawless.

I would love to see how both performances develop by their final performance on Saturday. My one complaint was that, in the more emotionally fraught moments, Thompson and Lefkow-Green could have given even more. I mean this literally in the sense that they could have spoken with more intensity; the most effective moment of the climactic scene came when Ada dropped a spade, and I found myself wishing that they would match that level of noise with their own voices.

“At times, too, the play needed to trust the strength of its own basis a little more.”

At times, too, the play needed to trust the strength of its own basis a little more. Both Ada and Chris constantly reiterated the facts of the story: stock phrases such as “Matt is dead!” and “why are we doing this!” came up in what felt like every conversation, in a manner that lessened, rather than enhanced, the effect of these points. As a play, Swear It On His Graves is largely realist, so to sell the authenticity of Ada and Chris’ interactions it could have done with more wide-ranging conversations between them. This is not to suggest that the fact of the characters’ preoccupation with Matt’s death was unrealistic – story-wise, it made total sense – but that that preoccupation would have, at points, been better sold by implication. A confidence from Renz in the ability of their audience to read into their otherwise excellent writing would have made Ada and Chris’ interactions all the more believable.


Mountain View

Picking up the pieces of One and a Part

This, though, was my only qualm with Renz’s writing. Otherwise, I found the premise intriguing, the pacing well done and the dialogue subtly witty, in that strange manner that only grief encourages. An exchange about freezers succumbing to peer pressure was especially endearing, with Thompson capturing the humour in Chris’ deliberately unfunny observations. I would also like to briefly commend the communication of Matt’s transness; Renz made it a subtle fact of his character (in one reference to his scars, and another to a disapproving relative) rather than a plot point, a masterclass in positive casual representation.

Swear It On His Graves ultimately refuses to be bogged down by its subject matter (excuse the pun). Neither overly depressing nor overly flippant, it is a sensitive, enlightening look at grief.

Swear It On His Graves is running until Saturday 10 February at the Corpus Playroom.