There are two words which should strike fear into the heart of any right-minded theatre-goer: Audience Participation. Nothing breaks the spirit of someone more than being reluctantly dragged onstage by an overly-eager actor for what they assure you will be ‘a hilarious experience.’ Besides, nobody dresses up to go out these days, so the idea of blinking at the footlights and standing in your rumpled clothes in front of what until a moment ago were people just like you – people who paid good money to see professional actors emoting, not a frumpy suburban housewife or a doughy Midwestern insurance salesman gamely holding props and looking bewildered – well, it’s just too much. So it was that I chose a seat way at the back and slunk down as far as I could at the opening night of This is the Funeral of Your Life, the latest production from Irish theatre-maker Louise White currently playing at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin. It turns out I made the wrong choice: this is a clever, funny show which engages the audience from the opening moments, and volunteers were enthusiastically putting their hands up so they could take part. By the end of its brief 65-minute running time, I was wishing I’d been picked out, too.
And no wonder, for the subject of This is the Funeral of Your Life is truly universal and irresistible: Death. Combining music, dance, spoken word, performance, improv, and yes, audience participation, White’s show is an immersive look at the rituals we have around death, wakes and funerals; everything from endless pots of tea to endless rounds of sandwiches to heartfelt eulogies to choices of music poor, saccharine and apt. Much of the show works because the context is Irish – we do a lot of things poorly in Ireland, but a wake isn’t one of them – but the themes are identifiable in any culture. Comical, moving and genuinely thought-provoking, This is the Funeral of Your Life captures the absurdity, devastation and humility of Final Farewells. The show runs until November 11th.