- Flora Gosling
Review: Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! (Tron Theatre)
An insightful and absurdist trudge towards death
It is a stereotype of performers and actors that they want to be liked – but if the start of Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! is anything to go by that couldn’t be further from the truth for Ridiculusmus. The comedy duo of Jon Haynes and David Woods, dressed as a cartoonishly wizened married couple, start the performance by shuffling slowly to a dining table. This shuffling takes place in absolute silence, bar a loud ticking clock, for a solid ten minutes. No dialogue, no physical comedy, nothing, for ten minutes. Like listening to “4’33” by John Cage you become aware of every little sound and movement on stage and off of it. Unlike “4’33”, you have no idea how long it will last.
When things do start to happen – lines are spoken, actions take place, the measly components of plot take effect – the bar is set and the audience know that whatever happens, it will take ten times longer than it should. Pinter pauses ain’t got nothing on this. And what does happen is hardly more comfortable than waiting for it. We are treated to dusty farts, blood-speckled spit, and dry-swallowed pills vomited onto the floor. This gross-out humour is not juvenile and provocative per se, just pitiful and incompetent. Things even become senilely sensuous between the couple, before the audience are blinded with a bright white light as though to punish us for looking too closely.
Photograph: Bryony Jackson
Haynes and Woods aren’t playing old people, they are playing unflattering caricatures of old people. They embody every resented characteristic of old people imaginable. In the moment the performance garners a couple of chuckles, but many will say that the experience is largely uncomfortable, boring, and frustrating. The agonisingly slow, uneventful process contrasts with the violent and urgent title. The more you sit in silence watching one character shuffle off stage to let out gas the more you start to wonder exactly what you expect them to do instead. Do you subconsciously wish they would die, like the title says, just to put an end to the discomfort of watching them? Why is this slowness and incompetency is such a problem to you as a spectator? Even your instinctive disgust at the spit, mess, and gas begins to feel heartless. The humiliation of not being able to control your bodily functions slowly stops being a subject of ridicule and becomes a subject of pity. The thing we are laughing at, what we are inspecting, is not old age but the fear and resentment of it.
In the moment, when you are watching a ghostly farce of an old man coughing wetly into a handkerchief and seeing the saliva drip onto the floor, it may be hard to appreciate. Like any absurdist work, Die! Die! Die! is an extremely acquired taste, and requires an uncommon amount of patience. But what Ridiculusmus do with their concept is maddening, funny and heart-breaking not because you feel sorry for the characters (they are so cartoonish they never really resemble reality), but because it confronts you with your own ageist and ableist prejudices. It’s a chance to sit in your own discomfort and question why it is there in the first place. Four stars.
Whispers from the Audience: "I thought it was crap. The acting was good but the script..."
"I enjoyed it! I thought it captured how isolated the elderly can be."
Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! has completed its run at Tron Theatre