Review: Let the Bodies Pile High

Henry Naylor's latest play links two kinds of killer

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 10 Aug 2023
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Emily Carding in Let the Bodies Pile High

Good taste is never a guarantee at the Fringe, and this jaw-dropping new play from Henry Naylor certainly pushes at the boundaries of it. Split into two acts, it attempts to make a symbolic (and explicit) link between 90s OAP serial killer Harold Shipman and the UK government’s catastrophic mishandling of care homes during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Act one opens in the late 90s with Georgie (Emily Carding) returning to her hometown of Hyde, “a town of mills, moors and mass murder”, following her semi-estranged mother’s sudden death. Act two takes place 20 years later as a Hyde care home is overwhelmed by a deadly new virus. Both halves are strange brews. The first has going for it a lyrical narration and electric scenes between bickering siblings (Naylor plays Georgie’s brother) whose relationship is tangled up in feelings of resentment and tenderness. But then it also has Harold Shipman popping up with all the subtlety of Hannibal Lecter and some tortured symbolism involving ivy choking an apple tree. Part two, meanwhile, mixes social satire, Edgar Allan Poe-esque horror and ripe Matt Hancock sex fantasies. 

The political fury of Let the Bodies Pile cannot be faulted, but more than once it feels like Naylor is going after the wrong targets. A cynical care worker on £8.60 an hour comes in for scorn, as does a son who’s given up most of his adult life to care for his demanding mother. Naylor would be better, surely, to aim his anger at the prime minister whose callous words inspired his play’s title.