Review by Kate Gaul
Ghent’s Ontroerend Goed are always a high-water mark at Edinburgh Fringe, and “Funeral” was the first ticket I organised for this year. At my last Fringe ‘Are we not drawn onward to new erA’ was a no-questions masterpiece. This year, “Funeral” is an incredible act of generosity, ferociously theatrical, unbelievably human in scale and so much more.
“Funeral” is an early morning show which begins on the steps of the Zoo venue (one of my top three venues in Edinburgh for stellar programming and hospitality). We are taught a song which - we are told – we will sing at the end of the “show”. To reveal much more of what happens would be to absolutely take away from the unique experience. In the blurb the company tell us there will be greetings, singing, pretending, light, darkness, a celebration and then it will end. There is all that and it is more than the sum of its parts. Everyone is invited to share a cup of tea following what is an emotionally charged event. It’s immersive. It’s gentle. The company take time to take care of each audience member as we embark on a ritual about the end of life.
Artistic director Alexander Devriendt has been quoted as saying “theatre reaches very few people. You need to care about how you reach them and what it is about the live experience that requires theatre.”
We will die. People get that. What most people don’t get is that the fact that they are going to die is the most important thing that will happen to them. Humans are one of the few creatures that understand death and live their entire lives with the knowledge of their deaths. And so, it’s a conflict within us – we live in these decaying bodies and yet we feel so special and important so how do you reconcile those two things? It’s hard to reconcile them so we must create. We must transcend. We must have religion, communities, art. Those are created by our fear and our strange, difficult, weird relationship with death.
Devriendt again, “I want my work to question my own worldview. If art isn’t challenging, why bother?” Ontroerend Goed’s work relies on a careful balance between making the audience uneasy and giving us an easy ride (or maybe even completely alienating some people). That is the beauty of “Funeral”. I was moved. Many people appeared moved but it’s possible that some are being asked to step too far from comfort zones into modes of presentation and subject matter that is too far from the pale. Be adventurous. See this show and I guarantee you will never see confetti the same way again.