Theatre Review: The Resurrection Men // Open Theatre

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There’s nothing like a good ghost story is there? Though the idea of spectral terror is more associated with Halloween, I’d argue it has just as much of a presence during the Christmas period, thanks to the association of remembering the past, the want for light in the darkness, and the Marley and Marley song from The Muppets Christmas Carol – the only good Christmas film. (I will not be taking questions at this time.)

Anyway, The Resurrection Men by Izabelle Chappell is here to add a bit of spookiness to your seasonal joy. Another radio play from Open Theatre, this one tells the story of a group of grave robbers, working and telling stories to stave off the monotony and anxiety around the nature of their work. Or, as it transpires, to add to it. 

Overall, this piece is very good at creating a menacing and creepy atmosphere through audio alone. Stone and wind can be heard surrounding the characters, and the dialogue echoes giving a sense of the scale of the setting, as well as the solitary situations of the characters. I especially like how all actors demonstrate how the speech of the characters tries desperately to bring light to a rather dark setting.

Speaking of the characters, this is where The Resurrection Men falters a tad, because, really, there aren’t any. There’s a clear sense of history and dynamics of tension between them, but you never learn their names, and the subject of conversation never allows you to learn much about them. It’s also left a tad unclear about their jobs or desires within this story, so you feel as though you’re listening to a conversation that’s a part of a larger narrative, but one that you can’t really work out the context of. Eventually, it becomes hard to differentiate between the different roles, which is disappointing as the actors are clearly putting a lot of personality into their characters.

However, what makes up for that (and what creates the main appeal for this show, in my view) is the tales within the story that the gravediggers tell each other. These little anecdotes are filled with imagination and enough variety that you’re always interested when a new one comes around. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that inspiration for this play was Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, another play that interrupts its story to tell short stories with an emphasis on horror, and I make that compare favorably. A story about a woman with chronic sleeping sickness, in particular, is chillingly told, and the fact that all the stories varied enough in content, but were united in theme, gave the story a greatly needed sense of cohesion.

Ultimately, The Resurrection Men is a horror story that has a great sense of atmosphere, and is filled with enough spooky stories to leave you interested and give chill vibes to your evening. At only half an hour-long, it’s an easily digested tale of terror, and though I lament the presence of the characters, what the play sets out to do, it does deliver on. There is clearly talent that went into this, both in the writing and in the sound design, and that effort pays off as I did enjoy it. Part of me just wishes this was just one chapter of a larger story so that I could fully understand it.

You can listen to Open Theatre’s The Resurrection Men here.

Words by Mischa Alexander.


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