A Wake in Progress by Joel Samuels (Fine Mess Theatre)
Vaults (short walk from Waterloo)
1 hour, no interval
Veronica Stein, 10th February 2019.
A couple of years ago, there appeared to be growing interest in the concept of death-day parties, so to speak, where those who were choosing to depart through assisted suicide threw parties to celebrate their lives and say goodbye on their own terms. Fine Mess seems to have run with this concept in their production of A Wake in Progress, where the audience follows, and partially creates, the story of a terminally ill character’s choice to throw a wake prior to their passing.
The cast of five have brilliant energy- incredibly important as this play moves swiftly between traditional drama and boisterous bits of audience interaction. Whether audience members recount bad first date stories or give the name of the street of their first address, the performers are receptive and ebullient, adding it to the show through character histories and even song.
Though ebullient is not the first word that pops to mind when thinking of death, it is one of the main qualities of Wake. Though heavy themes are discussed (with a thoughtful but not too saccharine slant from writer/director Joel Samuels) it ends in party hats and prosecco. The gist seems to be that although grief can tear us and our relationships apart, we perhaps have the choice to welcome it like an old friend. At the very least, we can commiserate with our actual old friends.
Though the audience interaction doesn’t add any particular gravitas or even direction to the plot, it serves a purpose integral to what A Wake offers in totality: it reminds us of the notion that all of our idiosyncrasies and varied inner lives are bonded by the universal experience of death. There’s strength in numbers, so why not face it together?
As audience input peppers the ceiling via note cards on a laundry line, it’s as if our individual experiences are all stars in a makeshift sky. A beautiful image for a beautiful piece of theatre- one that exemplifies theatre as a shared experience.
Cast: : Andrew David, Amy Fleming, Molly Small, Stella Taylor, & Daniel Ward
Director: Joel Samuels
Designer: Lydia Denno
Photo: Ali Wright