Life at Death's Door by Ann Théato and Steve Spence

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Life at Death's Door by Ann Théato and Steve Spence. Dir. Jack Bowman. Perf. Jo Brand, David Beck, Grace Bishop. Wireless Theatre Company, April 2015. Download

Death comes to all of us, but it can be celebrated in different ways, whether ostentatiously or privately. Narrated with dry wit by Jo Brand, "Life at Death's Door" ingeniously combines interviews with dramatized extracts to demonstrate the sheer breadth of celebrations (or should it be rituals?) that people employ. They range from the consciously un-religious practices of the British Humanist Association to the communal activities practiced in Ghana.

Jack Bowman's production reminds us of a fundamental paradox: while death is universal, the significance of the rituals varies across time and space. It might be an excuse for private rituals, where close relatives reflect on their relationship to the deceased; or it might be a communal activity in which death as an entity is not recognized at all.

There is also the question of how a dead body is dealt with; is it placed in a casket or a coffin; should it be cremated or buried intact; or are there other ways of dealing with it. Bowman's production did not shy away from the commercial aspects of the funeral rituals, whereby companies try to exploit a family's grief in pursuit of financial gain. There are also the blackly humorous aspects of death, as recalled by the actor Brian Blessed, when he described his early career making coffins in Yorkshire.

"Life at Death's Door" is an entertaining piece, with the dramatized extracts contributing greatly to our understanding of death across cultures. I am looking forward to the next episode.