Dead At Last, No More Air

Playwright Werner Schwab was just 35 when he died from what must have been quite a drinking spree after a New Year’s Eve party in 1994. It’s maybe uncomfortably ironic that the one of the last plays he penned was titled “Dead At Last – No More Air” but then if uncomfortable is what you’re looking for, Just A Must’s English language premiere of Schwab’s play is your kind of show.

All the tropes are there – a play within a play to keep everything wonderfully meta, scatological and sexual images, social classes not behaving as they should – so far, so ticking the box of academic interest.

There’s a semblance of a plot in which an arrogant director takes on a fat and aging playwright’s work with a host of similarly pretentious actors, only for them to be replaced by old age pensioners from a nearby home – but it doesn’t really matter. There are many, many lines of dialogue between all of this happening and many of them quite delightfully incomprehensible. I say delightfully because it’s clear from the dialogue that Schwab longed to be part of the grand tradition of surrealism that hails back back to the likes of Alfred Jarry and his seminal work King Ubu, and in Dead At Last he certainly does his best to continue the lineage of nonsense at any possible opportunity.

All the tropes are there – a play within a play to keep everything wonderfully meta, scatological and sexual images, social classes not behaving as they should – so far, so ticking the box of academic interest. However this is surely the problem with Just A Must’s production; whilst the actors clearly relish their ridiculous roles, from an audience point of view there isn’t much else to take from the performance - save a feeling of intellectual inspection.

Perhaps that’s enough to take from a play that so clearly doesn’t want anyone to enjoy the experience too much. The actors put on and take off wigs as they please, the cleaner, a character touted as a leader for the new world old age pensioner order, enters in one scene wearing an inflatable dress, the playwright, bullied by all of the other actors, quite visibly wets himself on stage. The cast go along with the absurdity gleefully, but clearer signs of Director Vanda Butkovic and Designer Simon Donger interpreting Schwab’s play from a greater creative context might have given Dead At Last more of an edge, rather than reading the text at face value. The cast throughout the production, for example, generally use the multiple airbeds on stage as chairs or sofas. Eventually they do form part of a funny visual expression of death, but it takes until the final act for them to become anything more than stage furniture.

When Jarry’s King Ubu premiered in Paris, a riot broke out at the end of the performance, the play itself outlawed from the stage for its seemingly abhorrent concept. Sadly for all of its eccentricities and anti-theatre roots Dead At Last, or the English language version anyway, would raise at best an intrigued eyebrow rather than a pitchfork – a workshop in a form not seen often in theatres today, but not a masterclass.

Reviews by Laura Cress

The Courtyard

King Lear with Sheep

★★★
Soho Theatre

Bears in Space

★★★★
St Paul's Church, Covent Garden

Twelfth Night

★★★★
International Anthony Burgess Foundation / Underground Venues

After Party

★★★★
Arcola Theatre

Clarion

★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Dead at Last, No More Air, also known as a “theatre-extinction comedy”, is a brutal, irreverent and bizarrely comical piece about what happens when an emerging theatre production is sabotaged by outsiders. Following a dispute with the cast, the director replaces all the actors with pensioners from a nearby home for the elderly. At first compliant and polite, the ‘forgotten and dispossessed’ gradually start to question the director’s authority, leading to a ‘coup d’état’ where the theatre’s cleaning lady is selected as the group’s leader. Not everybody survives the new order.

Most Popular See More

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Book of Mormon

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Dear Evan Hansen

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Hairspray

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Back to the Future - The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets