The sympathetic and dignified outline of a standing wreath suggests a funeral parlour, but anyone expecting grave solemnity in Louise White’s ebullient new work will be surprised by its jovial notes – the overwhelming tangerine of a stage curtain, a Whitney Houston melody lightly threaded on piano. Who died?
We will, eventually. Facilitating our demise ahead of time, White’s charming production – woven from personal grief – explores ideas of mortality. Different modes of performance are deployed to seek understanding and acceptance; in dance, for instance, Philip Connaghton approaches the act of dying from several sides, flashing melodramatically with fright one minute, over-conceptual and rigid the next, until he convulses violently to the rhythms of life monitors. The feel-good sound of ABBA’s ‘SOS’ finds its way into the performance, in an anticipation of death that seems to also anticipate life.
Elsewhere, the same question that inspired choreographer Mikhail Fokine’s famous solo, The Dying Swan, informs Michelle O’Rourke’s musical performance: how do you artistically present a life lived to perfection? Her mezzo-soprano, pure in its notes, has a good stab at it. By comparison, actor Lucy Miller could be the most analogue among the cast, but there’s no denying her soothing clarity when she tells us our role as audience members: “You’re here to let go.”
It all makes for a fresh fascination with rituals of grieving. At the show’s most poignant moment, we visit a wake where figures stress over details of organisation. Coming and going with trays, in between changing their shirts, the mourners are clearly finding it difficult to prepare. The dressing of audience members in superhero capes to make sandwiches and dry cups becomes a remarkably compassionate gesture.
The specifics of a reimagined funeral service, however, are less clear. A sermon about a woman fending off vultures reads as purple prose. A prayer goes through a lot of effort to tell us that there is no message. What are we doing here exactly?
The final moments, smoky with incense and involving a dancing body dogged by death, may not say anything that the production hasn’t already covered, but that shouldn’t entirely dismiss the profound, penetrating search that’s gone before.
This is the Funeral of Your Life is at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, until November 11th. For more details, click here.