How to Bury a Dead Mule

Richard Clements
Pleasance Dome

How to Bury a Dead Mule

The horrors of war and the scars left behind are a field, ripe to grow great plays within. The bitter fruit of conflict and its ruin of young lives are a mark of shame on society that finds a way to sprout new vines with every generation. Only with distance, space and patience can we sift through it and find truth.

It’s precisely this that Richard Clements has done in his deeply traumatic exploration of the life of his troubled and broken war veteran grandfather, Norman.

It’s at times a familiar tale, following an Irishman from the arms of his young wife to the dust of Tunis and through sunny climbs and barbarous bloody battles of the Italian campaign only to return to a world that didn’t know how to deal with the psychological scars it would leave on him.

It’s a frenetic piece. Clements barely seems to stop moving, a wiry dervish of sinew and sweat barking out fragments of his life as his mind flits back and forth from eager youth, to combat soldier, to damaged civilian unable to function, his voice booming out over the roar of war and the music of peacetime as he clambers over the cardboard boxes that make up much of the set.

The use of a projected screen at the rear of the stage serves as an indication of inner turmoil, as well as a reflection of the man’s love of cinema. Where the world and events have become unmoored from each other, the only way to connect them is to create a familiar framework. This leads to some great moments, with maps, photos, film and shadow-work enacting fragments of memories or highlighting the difference between real life and tortured psyche. But there’s a disconnect, as this cinematic vehicle isn’t quite clear enough to fully pin throughout, as it feels tacked on in this already full-to-bursting sojourn.

It’s captivating in its brutal simplicity, while also teeming with ingenious touches. An exhausting and touching arm reaching out to try and reach someone already lost and make sense of senselessness itself. A simply devastating spectacle.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan

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