When You Pass Over My Tomb review – Arcola Theatre, London ★★★☆☆

Charlie MacGechan and Allel Nedjari. Photo: Alex Brenner

Review by Katie Shaw

Sergio Blanco’s When You Pass Over My Tomb is a play that grapples with death, the art of dying, and necrophilia in a way that commands the attention of the audience through light-hearted anecdotes and humour. I was immediately taken by the introduction to the cast: Al Nedjari, Charlie MacGechan, and Danny Schiemann. Standing as ghosts, they detail the various ways in which they all died and came to be ‘here’ in Dalston. Nedjari, who also plays Sergio, seamlessly moves onto the main crux of the story, recollecting his stay at an assisted-suicide clinic in Geneva.

While many make the miraculous decision to donate their body to science after their death, Sergio informs us that he too arranged to donate his body after death; only, instead of donating it to science, he arranged to donate it to Khaled, a known necrophiliac. I couldn’t help but be engrossed in the psycho-sexual, but often emotional relationship between Sergio and Khaled, often wondering what their true intentions are to be with one another. It is a story that crosses and blurs boundaries between something that is darkly taboo – Khaled being a necrophiliac, and something that is darkly improper and salacious – Sergio willingly arranging to give his body to a necrophiliac.

Danny Scheinmann and Allel Nedjari. Photo: Alex Brenner

Weaving Frankenstein and Hamlet references throughout cleverly informs us of the play’s overriding motif: that death is at the end of everybody’s story. We can’t help but be confronted with the reality of death throughout – the ghosts of Al, Charlie, and Danny are what ease us into the play, there are several anecdotes and references to death and to dying, Sergio is at an assisted-suicide clinic, and Khaled? Well, Khaled likes to f**k corpses.

Doctor Godwin seems to be the only one to have some rationale amongst the thrill of it all. He explains to Sergio that while death occurs in seven to ten minutes at the Geneva centre, that ‘it is done with tranquillity’; replacing the representation of death as a brutal end, with something that is sublime and paradisiacal. This imagery is upheld by the recurrent parallels that are drawn between Sergio’s modern life at the clinic and the heavy reference to Greek Mythology and the rituals and customs of the ancient world and their optimistic outlook on their dead and the afterlife.

Allel Nedjari and Danny Scheinmann. Photo: Alex Brenner

Despite grappling with death, the art of dying, and necrophilia, Sergio’s metafiction and the light-hearted nature of the characters help to distract from the dark undercurrents of the play. Sergio’s use of blurred lines between his own reality and his fiction for play, certainly make for a unique and interesting- yet somewhat fragmented – story.

The performances of Nedjari, MacGechan, and Scheinmann were brilliant, but it was ultimately MacGechan’s smooth oscillation between Khaled and Charlie that stole the show for me. So, if you are looking to watch something that transgresses boundaries and confronts you with the reality of the one thing in life that is assured: death, but in a diplomatic and humorous manner, then you should get yourself down to the Arcola.

When You Pass Over My Tomb is at Arcola Theatre, London until 2 March 2024