Death. Regret. Ancient Egypt… It doesn’t exactly sound like a laugh-a-minute premise. Yet, cleverly written and confidently performed, Amy Gwilliam’s one-woman show manages to deliver an ample sprinkling of light relief, tickling our funny bones as well as moving us to tears in Mummy.
As the show opens, we the audience double as former pupils attending an Alumni Supper for St Stephen’s school. Somewhat bizarrely taking place at Zedel Brasserie’s Crazy Coqs cabaret club in Piccadilly but, on the promise of pretend canapes after the lecture, we go with it. And the audience is not eased in to this event. Asked to stand, we exchange embarrassed looks as we fumble over the words of the school hymn as the piano’s commandeered by a po-faced teacher (director Sophie Larsmon does the honours). The awkward start perfectly sets the scene. We’re poised for the formal introduction of ‘old girl’ Dr Elizabeth Niccoll.
Turns out the special guest speaker is shamelessly using the platform to launch her first book, Mummy: The Art of Saying Goodbye. As Niccoll nods to fictionally familiar faces in the crowd, her introductory gambit is littered with well-observed cringe moments from school days long since passed. However, it’s clear from the off there’s something bubbling under the surface for this successful scholar who’s found herself on stage in her old school haunt. Surrounded by old faces, buried memories… the ghosts of her past begin to return.
Niccoll’s a celebrated expert who’s dedicated the last 14 years to studying death and the fascinating rituals it draws worldwide. Death. The only certainty in life. Dr Niccoll is obsessed with it. As Niccoll delivers the lecture, she goes off into trance-like tangents and, somewhat inevitably, reveals that she lost her mother at the tender age of 16. Informed at school, whilst dashing between revision lessons on her lunch break. But the sandwich she was eating at the time became the only lump stuck in her throat. She didn’t cry then, she can’t cry now. As her lecture unravels, so does she. She’s been wrangling with the subject of death ever since that day, trying to make sense of it. Laying her soul bare, Niccoll confesses that she buried herself in academia to avoid living. Too scared that she would not live up to the vibrant life force her mother embodied.
The pathos is tangible. Coupled with the knowledge that the play’s inspired by the death of Gwilliam’s own mother – TV comedy director Liddy Oldroyd (Drop the Dead Donkey, Gimme Gimme Gimme) – it’s a truly captivating, vulnerable performance delivered by Gwilliam. But it’s not all doom and gloom, comedienne Gwilliam’s at ease with audience interaction and manages to turn the grim details of Mummification on its head for big laughs. Chaos ensues as a reluctant audience volunteer is wrapped in bandages by another less-than-willing volunteer. Tiff and Laura were our nervous friends and, as Dr Niccoll urges them to wrap her up in turn, the symbolism becomes clear as day. Once Niccoll’s encased in bandages, head to toe, she truly cracks. Her wounds that were invisible to the outside world now extremely vivid. She’s become a Mummy while feeling the aching absence of her own. Deep down inside, she’s still feeling the raw grief, the loss, the unmended crack in her heart that her mother’s death left in its wake. The questions that went unanswered, the dreams unfulfilled…
As these revelations pour out it could easily lead to our character dying on stage, losing her audience’s interest… Not a bit. In fact, Dr Niccoll comes to life. Walking the line between tragedy and comedy beautifully, the wonderfully quirky staging at a cabaret setting at Zedel Brasserie’s Crazy Coqs slots into place. As Dr Niccoll eyes the piano through her mournful bandages we know we’re in for a show-stopping performance…
Don’t be left with regret. Catch Gwilliam’s show if Mummy finds itself in the spotlight again soon.
Cast: Amy Gwilliam Director: Sophie Larsmon Writer: Amy Gwilliam Theatre: Crazy Coqs Performance Dates: 23rd – 25th May 2017