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Dead Happy
Published on Tuesday, 07 May 2013

Promotional Image

4 stars

At your house
15-19, 22-26, 29-31 May, 1-2 Jun, 8:30pm-9:20pm
Reviewed by Darren Taffinder

 World Premiere.
 Suitable for age 16+ only.

Last year I applied to be a coffin bearer. It sounded like a great job for a writer – part-time and in the fresh air. In the end, I decided not to pursue it, as my own father had recently passed away and I wasn’t sure being so close to other people’s grief would be a good thing. During the interview though, I was taken behind the scenes of the funeral home, and it was a fascinating insight into something we really do not like to think about at all.

The practicalities of death are the subject of Dead Happy, a one-man show from writer Simon Lovat (who, as an ordained Buddhist, is also known as Dharmachari Vidyadhara). Performing in your own living room, Lovat plays funeral director Francis Putlock, arriving on a late-night call to collect a body. This might not sound like the happiest premise for an evening in, but what follows is a deeply poignant and intimate reflection on life and death. We might not like to think about it, but as Putlock points out: we will all attend at least one funeral in our lives.

What I really admired was Lovat’s ability to manage a delicate balance of humour and sadness; one moment you’re laughing, and the next you want to cry. He completely inhabits Putlock, a brilliant creation, and because the show’s set in your house – beginning with a knock on the door – there’s nowhere for him to hide. This is theatre as up-close and personal as you can get. Speaking to Lovat afterwards, he described it as more like TV acting than theatre.  It’s not a show about projecting to the back of the stalls, but something that draws you forward in your seat.

Putlock has always been involved in the business of death, as a naval seamen during the Falklands and later as a partner in a funeral business, and when it comes to death he really has seen it all.  But still, there are a few problems with the show. The beginning felt a little awkward – I wasn’t sure about the interactive element at the start – and the end felt somewhat abrupt, almost like he didn’t know quite know how to finish. And it may sound trivial, but there wasn’t really an opportunity to applaud at the end. I felt applause would have been important for the audience as well as for the performer – a way of transitioning back into real life again.

In the press preview I attended, Lovat stayed behind to chat about the show, sparking a very interesting discussion. I wonder if this is something he might want to think about offering the wider public. But with or without that, if anyone were to ask me what single show encapsulates what I think the Fringe should be about, I might well choose this one. To having someone come into your house and perform a play that makes you laugh, cry, and feel challenged… that would made for a great night out in.

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