Review: The Strange Death of John Doe, Hampstead Downstairs

I’m left unmoved by The Strange Death of John Doe, running at the newly press-covered Hampstead Downstairs

“I mean, where does a person begin and end, and when did they stop being a person?”

So it looks like the Hampstead Theatre’s policy of not having its downstairs shows ‘officially’ reviewed has been well and truly junked asThe Strange Death of John Doe is the second show to get the full press treatment after The Phlebotomist. And perhaps it’s just a coincidence that this one is directed by Edward Hall himself…

As it is, the Hampstead Downstairs’ remit as an experimental space has always been a bit of an iffy one, in reality this is more of a Royal Court Upstairs kind of theatre, and Fiona Doyle’s new play is no exception. An intriguing take on a horrific but underexplored aspect of the refugee crisis, vividly staged with movement by the late Scott Ambler.

The John Doe of the title is an undocumented man who has fallen to his death from the landing gear of a plane. As police and pathologists try to uncover the mystery of who he is, a story of how he was driven to such action is revealed, its impact proving wide-reaching.

It’s all stylishly done, Michael Pavelka’s set design suitably clinical, but tonally it suffers from a surfeit of genres peppered throughout the many short scenes. You want to feel for the plight of Benjamin Cawley’s Ximo but as we switch from profound study to almost slapstick via gothic horror, I’m not sure this is a case worth solving.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Robert Day
The Strange Death of John Doe is booking at Hampstead Downstairs until 7th July

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