JOYCE MCMILLAN on GRAVE UNDERTAKING at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 30.10.13.
4 stars ****
IT DOESN’T AIM for the intense social significance of Paddy Cunneen’s two plays about knife crime, Fleeto and Wee Andy; but all the same, his new Play, Pie and Pint show is a thoroughly elegant piece of small-scale theatre about love, life and death. The central character, Jim McCaber – superbly played by Jimmy Chisholm – is a reclusive middle-aged undertaker and embalmer, with a real talent for making a corpse look good. As the play opens, he finds himself engaged in a slightly surreal dialogue with the handsome earthly remains of a night-club crooner called Mr. Hayes – Paul Cunningham, in memorably suave form – who offers us words of wisdom from beyond death, in the form of gorgeous original songs, with blissful guitar and piano accompaniment.
The plot thickens, though, when McCaber (macabre, geddit?) unveils the latest corpse to arrive, and finds that it belongs to the only woman he ever loved, who left him after a 12-year relationship. In a series of flashbacks – with the embalmer’s slab transforming into their shared bed – we see Jim and Margaret meet, fall in love, grow up a bit, and then drift apart, as he takes over the family undertaking business and becomes, in her eyes, steadily more boring.
The point, roughly speaking, is that Jim’s life has been destroyed not so much by Margaret’s departure, as by his stubborn refusal to move on, and let the idea of her go. It’s hardly an original thought, but it’s executed here with a musical grace and verbal poetry that’s hard to resist. And when, at the end, Jimmy faces the truth that it was just wrong of him to mistake one person for the whole meaning of life, there’s a rapt silence in the audience that suggests a whole roomful of people recognising something of themselves; followed by a huge, warm roar of applause.