Tamara Saulwick’s Endings is a heady, almost hallucinatory meditation on modern death, coming to us in fragments. Disembodied voices played over tape and vinyl share a loved one’s last moments, memories of the dead and the dying. A ghost is glimpsed in an empty roadside phone box; a spiritualist medium scrambles for details of the spirits she is supposedly summoning; an old man who doesn’t believe in heaven ponders how quickly he will be forgotten once he has bid farewell to the world.
It’s a skilfully woven mix of song and spoken word, live voices and recordings, often echoing one another. Paddy Mann’s lilting, ethereal tunes add a suitably mournful vibe as Saulwick moves between old record turntables and tape players, sometimes listening, sometimes interacting. She’s a compelling performer, switching deftly between personas – her turn as the medium is properly disconcerting, an uneasy mix of sincerity and salesmanship.
Ben Cobham / bluebottle’s design serves the piece well: lights swoop and swing, illuminating patches of stage, shifting around the darkness without ever quite displacing it. At one point, two reels are unspooled, the tape itself stretched out across the stage; a barrier, a containment.
Not everything works. The production, with its emphasis on out of date analogue equipment, somewhat inevitably recalls the far richer and more layered Daniel Kitson piece Analog.Ue (albeit perhaps unfairly – it’s not like Kitson has a monopoly on a liking for old technology) and it suffers in comparison – it feels slight, the material stretched thin and repetitive even over its short running time.
But there’s a rich, shared humanity on display, and for a show about death, it’s oddly uplifting. Life’s key events are seen in snatched moments, from indirect angles – standing by a graveside, washing a relative’s dead body, steeling oneself to speak at a funeral. The common theme is not one of loss, but of the most basic of human needs, the need for connection. Endings speaks eloquently on the longing to imagine the people you love have not gone, and subtly makes the case that that very longing in itself is the cord that tethers the dead to the living. No one is lost, as long as she is remembered.
Endings is on until 13th May 2017, as part of the Brighton Festival. Click here for more details.