Swan Theatre, Worcester/Number 42 and Conclusions

IT’S difficult to say whether or not Ben Humphrey’s fictional take on a real-life story of death on a lonely moor has been overtaken – or perhaps even upstaged – by an actual development in the case.

Number 42 refers to the tally of unidentified bodies found across Britain in 2015. Tantalisingly, it is not yet entirely clear if the man in this mystery – named by Manchester police just over two weeks ago – did indeed lead the murky existence about which Humphrey theorises.

Or more to the point, whether clandestine organisations do actually exist in which the code of professional practice regards assisted death as being a fully acceptable part of one’s career path.

Pretty fantastic, I would say. Nevertheless, Jonathan Darby plays our mysterious human sacrifice with all the gravitas we have come to expect of this Worcester Rep stalwart.

He’s all alone on the lonely moor until along comes Victoria Lucie, ostensibly a fell walker, but in reality something else entirely… it is then that this deadly drama really starts to kick in with all the force of a fast-acting poison.

Chris Jaeger’s Conclusions builds slowly as two strangers on a park bench discover that they have more in common than is at first apparent. Liz Grand is entirely - and at times poignantly - convincing as a recently-widowed woman whose life is spiralling out of control via a hip flask and pills bottle.

Every expression screams her anguish, each utterance flowing from grey lips set in an unmade-up rain clouds face.

Victoria Lucie meanwhile is the vacuous mobile phone junkie who gradually realises that flesh and blood ultimately make for better company than oblongs of plastic. She plays the part brilliantly.

But while Jaeger’s parable of redemption gives us all cause for hope, Humphrey’s conspiratorially dark offering deftly snuffs it out. Interesting stuff… this double bill runs at the Vesta Tilley Studio until Saturday (February 25).

John Phillpott