Undertakers At Our Own Funeral
If One Direction were obsessed with the Story of My Life, writer Louise White seems morbidly fascinated with the funeral arrangements. In “This Is The Funeral Of Your Life,” creator and director White sets out to ask some hard questions about life, death, living, and dying. Despite White’s deeply personal inspiration behind this production, “This Is The Funeral Of Your Life” deals with its themes in the abstract. Showing little emotion, or insight, in it’s handling of one of the most deeply emotional, and insightful, of life experiences, “This Is The Funeral Of Your Life” delivers something of a problematic production. One that theatrically struts and frets its hour upon the stage, delivering some fine comic moments, but ultimately signifying a good deal less than it might have.
If “This Is The Funeral Of Your Life” purports to ask what really makes up a person, or what it’s like to think about your own funeral, alas, you’re left little the wiser for it. We’re all gonna die. Probably from cancer, or some other such fatal ailment. How we deal with this frail streamer we call life, and with our process of dying, all depends on how we see things. Alongside this simplistic take on a complex issue, “This Is The Funeral Of Your Life” also pokes holes in, and fun at, the processes, ceremonies, and rituals with which we deal with our overwhelming confusion and grief surrounding death and dying, delivering equally weak insights into this area also. Like its excellent comic double-act of Philip Connaghton and Lucy Miller, “This Is The Funeral Of Your Life” seeks to find a balance between the not too serious and not too lighthearted. But its comic and tragic overtones never quite marry, with the former being far more successful than the latter. Efforts to get the audience to participate and assess themselves on a very basic level, or to call upon the superheroes that man our sinks, sandwiches, and kettles while the neighbours call to pay their respects, all flicker with a comic edginess that often engages and provokes. But too often such moments overstay their welcome, look a little like gimmicks, don’t go far enough, or simply fizzle out.
Despite such difficulties, “This Is The Funeral of Your Life” still surprises upon something genuinely affecting at times. The image of Connaghton being pallbearered and laid out in funereal stillness, as the smell of incense floods the space, proves to be vividly powerful. Clichéd songs, a final dance sequence accentuating the power, beauty, and vulnerability of these temporary bodies we all inhabit, all deliver momentary shivers that trickle down the spine. Yet, like its comic edginess, such moments quickly pass, as if digging a grave in rocky soil, hitting stone, and going no further. A late in the day eulogy might try to bring it all home, but it’s not quite up to the task. Instead, a final, deeply moving, dance sequence by Connaghton is left to carry the burden of filling in way too many blanks.
If philosophically “This Is The Funeral Of Your Life” is less of an existential crisis at three in the morning, and more like skimming through Facebook aphorisms on a tired, bus journey home, theatrically it’s more rewarding, delivering some fine performances and design work. Philip Connaghton beautifully contrasts Lucy Miller’s matter of fact delivery with some excellent comic delivery of his own. Indeed, Connaghton is scene stealingly fantastic throughout, delivering one of his most impressive, understated, and engaging performances. Efforts to find the right funeral song, shifting between spiritual and secular, or to lament the dead, find music and vocals being wonderfully rendered by Michelle O’Rourke. A simple, yet effective, minimalist set design by Lian Bell, along with an evocative lighting design by Sarah Jane Shiels, do much to deepen the “This Is The Funeral Of Your Life” visual experience into something of substance.
Whether you see your life as a spiritual journey, a dance with death, or as a physical body passing through space and time before disappearing into the void, “This Is The Funeral Of Your Life” makes us all undertakers at our own funeral. Its ‘life is short, no one gets out alive, so go enjoy being all you can be’ attitude cuts the cloth to fit its often sanitized perspectives, avoiding the more difficult questions about how we choose, or cannot choose, to live, or mourn, and how we choose, or cannot choose, to die. Yet if “This Is The Funeral Of Your Life” never quite gets to the heart of the very questions it raises, it still offers some stirring moments, courtesy of three solid performances.
“This Is The Funeral Of Your Life” by Louise White, runs at The Project Arts Centre until November 11th
For more information, visit Project Arts Centre