Saturday 24 November 2018

The Director - Theatre Review

What: The Director
When: 21 November - 2 December 2018
Where: The Warehouse, Arts House
Created by: Lz Dunn, Aaron Orzech, Lara Thoms, and Scott Turnbull
Performed by: Lara Thoms and Scott Turnbull
Designed by: Katie Sfetkidis
Sound by: Kenneth Pennington
Lara Thoms and Scott Turnbull - photo by Bryony Jackson
The last step in my 'Mere Mortals' journey at Arts House is The Director. Taking us into the inner workings of the funeral industry, The Director takes over the The Warehouse for the next two weeks with laboratory cleanliness, the smell of burnt Weetbix, and a cacophany of schlock funeral music.

The Director is the outcome of an earlier creative development called Departures. The project arose out of Thoms need to make sense of the strange realities of the funeral industry after the death of both her parents (at different times).

Turnbull is an experienced 3rd generation funeral director. His family business was sold to 'the Coles of the funeral industry', Invocare, but he stayed on to manage it. One of the more interesting things we learn in The Director is most of the so-called family business are part of global conglomerates. They just keep the family names to give clients the sense they are dealing with a small, caring company rather than understanding it is all just about the required 15 - 20% profit margin.

The Director begins with the premise that Thoms in a apprentice funeral director and is learning the ropes from Turnbull. She dresses the corpse (a surprisngly awkward affair) and goes on to learn - with the audience tagging along - about how to cremate bodies, deal with the ashes, and the pricing structures.

In return Thoms gives Turnbull presentation tips on how to 'sell' the coffin selections and leads an interogative question and answer session digging deep into the commercial truths of the funeral industry. Whilst I liked the apprentice concept, in my view the turnabout aspect was ineffective and forced.

Sometimes I see things and wonder if they really are theatre or not and The Director is one of those shows for me. I cannot deny the performative elements such as a great sound design by Pennington and the presence of a lighting design, etc, but I wonder if Turnbull just giving a lecture wouldn't have been as effective. I get the impression The Director is really just what was salvageable from the original, more interesting idea in Departures.

I should preface any further comments with the admission that I was responsible for my father's funeral so I was aware of the exorbitant costs and ridiculous 'required' ceremony of the occasions. I guess I was lucky as well because I didn't have to see the body and I tend to dissociate from negative experiences so I wasn't interested in making the funeral anything supremely meaningful for anybody else.

Having said that, the bits of The Director I enjoyed most were stories of how much other people get involved including painting coffins, putting on light shows and other things. Everyone grieves in their own way and I guess the funeral sets the tone of each persons grieving process (not the value or depth of grief for each person I would like to add). There was a lot of humour in the anecdotes delivered with great attention to care and respect by Turnbull.

The most affective moment was Thoms slipping into reverie about what happened when she discovered her father dead in his bed. Rather than tell the tale she asks all those unaskable questions about the inhumanity of the body removal process and how you are supposed to clean up afterwards. If you have had to deal with a dead body you will know what she is talking about. If you haven't it is probably a really good idea to hear this stuff before you do. The biggest problem when these things happen is not having any idea of what to do or what happens next. Ignorance adds to the grief and trauma.

The banter between Thoms and Turnbull as they try to identify the type of person by the choice of funeral song is fun although it goes on a bit too long. Who do you think would have 'My Heart Will Go On' or 'My Way'? What would you choose for your loved ones? I'm thinking I would like 'Bring Me To Life'... ;)

Whilst The Director feels rather half-baked (pardon the pun) as a performance the information is invaluable and delivered respectfully with a sense of fun and inclusion. For instance the choice between cremation and burial for many people will quite possibly just end up being one of cost. Did you know a plot of land to be buried in is around $10,000 just by itself? On the other hand cremation only costs $950. Neither of these include any ceremonial elements or basic process costs such as coffins, flowers, celebrants, etc. I will mention the lesson about cremation goes into a lot of detail and is accompanied by smells and sounds which are unpleasantly evocative and I would not recommend young children attend this event.

2 stars

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