The Obituary Show

People Show 114
Bush Theatre
(2005)

The Obituary Show publicity image

Mike Bradwell, the artistic director of the Bush Theatre, must have misgivings about his theatre's relationship with the People Show collective. When they appeared at the theatre in 1987, it burned down. In 2005, he was bemoaning the fact that following storms, the electricity sales and the dress rehearsal took place in complete darkness. Strangely, for the People Show this would prove little more than a minor impediment.

This year, comedies about death are proving very fashionable on the British stage. Complicite started it off with their revival of A Minute Too Late at the National, Laura Wade had two cracks at it and now the People Show present their inevitably inventive look at the obituary business.

In almost forty years of existence, the People Show have built up a reputation for quirky art that is quite unique and can be impenetrable. It is pleasing to report that The Obituary Show is both accessible and often very funny.

Its underlying feel is that of film noir, as an anonymous piano player (Chahine Yavroyan) dies, almost in harness. A wonderful team of obituarists from a music paper, led by drunken journo Gareth Brierley and talented wordsmith Amanda Hadingue, are set the task of creating an obituary from the ether.

Their talents are demonstrated by quick-fire headlines for dead musicians, all of which conjure up a life in a few words. The atmosphere is set by a bookie's chalk board on the wall, providing odds on people dying in 2005. Michael Jackson is shown as odds-on favourite at the start but once his acquittal comes through instantly moves to rank outsider.

The Show includes live music performed by the actors and a wide variety of physical and verbal acting dexterity as a number of themes are explored.

While the play is ostensibly about death, it also affirms life and obliquely comments on the obituary industry and more widely on hack journalism as a trade, not to mention pathology. It also pays homage to an assortment of musical styles and those much-loved American private detective movies of the Forties.

By the end of its eighty minutes, we mysteriously find out a great deal about our piano player but far more about the People Show and their somewhat unusual but revealing views about the way in which we live.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher