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by on 16 March 2018

Life Is Funny, but Can Death Be Too ?


by David K. Barnes

Snatchback and Joyous Gard, The Vaults, Waterloo until 18th March

Part  of The VAULT Festival

Review by Georgia Renwick

Life is funny, and death can be too. David K. Barnes’ dark comedy Timothy takes a more sinister turn, with a comedy about murder.
Barnes is no stranger to writing about death. His radio drama serial Wooden Overcoats, which takes place in a haphazardly run funeral parlour on the fictional channel island of ‘Piffling’ was released on iTunes in 2016, to acclaim from the likes of The Times and The Telegraph. His Offie (Off-West End Award) nominated play Birthday Suit also features a plot with a vengeful turn and so, for Barnes, Timothy is comfortable territory.
Annette’s friends are mysteriously summoned to meet in a basement one afternoon. Her husband, charming, handsome, sensitive Timothy is – she attempts to assure them – not all he seems. He is trying to kill her, and she needs witnesses. Is she right? Is she crazy? Once they’ve finished their hot cocoa, can they escape with their lives?
I left with my life – but I left feeling profoundly uncomfortable. I reiterate that death can be funny, but on this occasion, I feel Barnes strays too far over that invisible line between comedy, and bad taste. There was laughter in the room on opening night, but I think it’s safe to say it won’t be everyone’s cup of cocoa.

Timothy publicity pic1
Snatchback, the new company producing the show, are a “female led” ensemble who “champion female-led productions… which at least equally represent women”. Timothy is a good fit in this regard, as we spend a great deal more time with the female characters than the title character of Timothy. There has been a noticeable push from the fringe theatre community at Vault Festival this year to highlight work with female representation at its core, and indeed Snatchback is just one company that is part of a positive wave in this direction. The yard-stick I have seen most commonly used is whether the work passes the Bechdel test. This test asks whether a work of fiction (not just theatre) features at least two women who talk about something other than a man. Timothy passes and proudly bears the sticker on its posters around the festival. Perhaps it is these female-positive credentials that make me even more incensed that the show’s foundation is making jokes about domestic murder. The World Health Organisation has stated that globally, about 38% of female homicides are committed by an intimate partner*, but that fact doesn’t make it onto the posters or into the show.

Timothy is not alone in trying to toe that controversial-comedy line. Controversial comedy in the theatre is in vogue, and it can be a rewarding play. A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer, which used song, music and comedy to talk about cancer played to sold-out houses at the National Theatre last year. Or what about 2016’s Assisted Suicide the Musical, so popular it received a revival at the Southbank Centre within a year  … or Curtains or After Electra.  Comedy wouldn’t be comedy if it toed the line but whilst these shows combine the controversial elements with comedy to incite debate, Timothy takes cheap shots at the gullibility of women. I am not laughing along when Annette’s friends find her claims of sweet Timothy’s murderous tendencies hard to believe. Many, many playwrights before Barnes have written pieces that find comedy in the face of what scares us. Perhaps this could be taken as an attempt which missed the mark.
Perhaps, I am taking it altogether too seriously. Barnes has written elements into the play, such as the absurdity of the basement, that are evidently not meant to be taken seriously. A lone lightbulb sways and flickers, and an impeccably well timed dripping tap causes uproarious laughter. The cast’s performances too, are heightened and there is some more light-hearted comedy to be found in their clever quips with one-another. Well-observed moments of some of the absurdities of female friendships, which I did enjoy. Indeed, the primary content aside, it has all the other elements of a pleasingly well-crafted play.

But yet, I can’t shake that profoundly uncomfortable feeling that some things just aren’t meant to be joked about.

Georgia Renwick
March 2018

Photography courtesy of Joyous Gard


* WHO (October 2013). Violence Against Women: fact sheet no. 239. World Health Organization. Archived from the original on 14th April 2014. Retrieved 10th April 2014.


Written by David K. Barnes
Directed by Rafaella Marcus

Annette – Hannah Sinclair Robinson
Yvonne -Amani Zardoe
Susan- Beth Eyre
Timothy – Henry Wyrley-Birch


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