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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Funeral (Zoo Southside)

A ceremony with its feet in the ground and its head in the cosmos

As a culture, it feels as though we are stuck between holding celebrations of life or traditional funerals for when our loved ones pass away. We want to remember them with joy but at the same time honour our own grief and the traditions that accompany it. Legendary Belgian company Ontroerend Goed’s interactive performance Funeral may not exactly offer a solution, but it is perfect for a world that is caught between celebrating life and mourning death, and also between living in the moment and pondering our place in the universe.

The performance begins with a humorous twist on what can be an uncomfortable formality: the handshaking. As we shake hands with each person we realise we are as much the guest as we are the hosts; this is a collective funeral and one in which we mourn for our losses and support each other in theirs. At this ceremony, there is space for both sorrow and celebration; candle-lit crying reminds us of the solitude of grief and how all-consuming that darkness can be. At another moment, where the audience takes turns throwing confetti into the air, we share a sense of wonderment. Perhaps that confetti represents a loved one, perhaps it represents our own lives, how brief they are yet how vibrant they can be. As an audience, we don’t need it spelt out to appreciate it; it is as much an act of healing for the audience as a performance by the theatre-makers.

But the performance is also working on another level. Its script deals heavily in deep time; in wrapping our heads around our place in the infinite cosmos, how every thing and every event will ultimately disintegrate into particles. It can be hard to conceptualise the death of a loved one and the death of the universe at the same time. We struggle to reckon with our own insurmountable grief and its ultimate irrelevance without overwhelming ourselves. Ontroerend Goed manage to hold both of these ideas at the same time, and they do so without fear.

Funeral has artistry to be unpicked, and big ideas to grapple with, but it also holds space for you to project your own loss. Much of it is understated, relying on atmosphere and setting to communicate its ideas. One can summarize everything that takes place and it would sound like a couple of ideas stretched to their limit. But that is the point; we do it together, slowly, patiently and respectfully. The performance ends with a Belgian song that we sing as a group, and it acts as a perfect conclusion. Like everything else in the performance, it is like a ceremony constructed of made-up traditions. It feels out of the ordinary but oddly familiar, and more than anything it feels totally unique. Four stars.

Whispers from the Crowd: I lost my dad during COVID and he didn't have a funeral. I think this works better for remembering someone than a funeral, with the community aspect. Given the choice I would take this over any funeral.

Funeral will play at Zoo Southside until August 27th

Photo Credit: Ans Brys


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