by Meredith Jones Russell
Trigger warnings have been the subject of some debate in theatre circles, but if ever there was a perfect example of the right time to use one, it is in A Wake in Progress. Not only because it is easily and deftly woven into the piece by master of ceremonies Amy Fleming without spoilers or awkward interjections, but also because the point of this show is absolutely not to make anyone feel uncomfortable or unhappy about death. Quite the opposite.
Part-written and part-improvised, so every performance is different, much of A Wake in Progress takes its cue from its audience. The warm and inclusive approach of the script and cast creates the atmosphere of comfort and respect necessary to get the best from everyone in the room.
The show explores the imminent death of one of its characters (whose name, chosen by the audience, is also different in every performance), whose struggles with a terminal illness lead to their decision to stop treatment and hold a dress rehearsal for their funeral, so they can enjoy it with all the people they love the most. Short scenes between combinations of cast members are broken up by sections where Fleming asks the audience a variety of questions. From favourite films to weirdest memories, the answers are later woven into the main character’s funeral celebration.
Hearing your own anecdote read back to you in a funeral setting is incredibly poignant, so it is right that the whole piece is set up to be as sensitive as it is. By asking audience members to help give out sweets, hang decorations and wear name badges, so everyone is referred to congenially by their first names, the cast brings everyone in the room together in an overwhelmingly sweet and supportive manner.
It is a truly touching but incredibly uplifting discussion of death and how we deal with it. By the final moments, when the audience joins together in a song, although the funeral setting is entirely believable, you feel more that you have gained a group of friends than lost someone. As such, rather than dwelling on death, A Wake in Progress is really a delightful and enjoyable celebration of life.
A Wake in Progress runs through 25 August in Edinburgh.
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