After a slow and rocky start, Ontroerend Goed’s Funeral becomes an emotionally resonant space for processing a person’s grief.

Moments of pure transcendent loveliness, moments that were less so

Ontroerend Goed are famous for making interesting interactive and participatory performances. Funeral feels like a continued experiment on that form that was partially successful.

The start in particular is a mixed bag, with really good ideas of moments of audience interaction; shaking the hand of each other audience member; washing your hands before entering the space; these sit alongside moments that feel unnecessarily busy. For example, getting the particularly recalcitrant audience to gather round at the start; passing around a series of logs.

One of the mistakes made is really not giving the audience enough time to clock that we are being offered a stamina and cardio torture exercise as a seat. We are offered a log to sit on, but the logs are quite small and really not designed for a person with balance issues such as myself. The decision to offer these as seats must have been made by a skinny person without any disabilities. Not to mention the number of audience members with bulky rucksacks. For a chunk of the piece, I am twisting in pain, in the utmost silence as this extremely serious and potent show takes place. I think to myself that it would be rude to fall off my slim log as a performer is weeping their eyes out in front of me. So I sneak ever so slowly to my knees instead. Allocating seats in this way is frankly a rookie error that Ontroerend Goed should not be making. I become considerably more charitable once I am not waiting for the pain to end.

The language used to describe those who have passed on is a collection of everyday descriptions, the things you might not realise would remind you of someone who has passed on until they do. It is a smorgasbord of the serious and frivolous. I think it works well for this piece because it keeps things grounded in the everyday, and allows each person time to speculate and meditate on the grief they are carrying.

Images and symbols move from one moment to the next with a real beauty and depth of appreciation. Once I realise what was happening, it brings tears to my eyes. I am not going to share the moment in full because of spoilers but the tenderness and care with which the performers treat the audience is essential to creating a space where we can feel free to weep openly.

I am not sure if I would describe it as a performance of communal grieving, though. The language used to describe the experience of grief, together with the lost people described or the list of names submitted by the audience to be read out in the performance, felt very individualised.

I am extremely susceptible to performances like this and cry at almost anything. It might have been that we are at Week Three of the Fringe and I need a good cry. But I am too thick with crying to join in with the Esperanto song the audience is taught at the start. The audience’s singing is terrible, but feels right for the moment.

Moments of pure transcendent loveliness, moments that were less so. I would recommend this show for someone feeling on the fence, but sit on the floor.

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Reviews by M Johnson

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The Blurb

Funeral: 'I don't believe in God but I miss him?' (Nothing to Be Frightened Of, Julian Barnes). A collective ritual about the finiteness of things. It will start in the dark. We will greet others and say goodbye. There will be singing and pretending. There will be light and room for darkness. We'll light candles, eat and drink, and celebrate life. And all of that will end. Welcome. A theatrical ceremony, a new ritual that brings people together. Because everything is finite and we are going to have to live with that.

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