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Living.Dying.Dead – Unity Theatre, Liverpool

Reviewer: Robin Winters

Director: Owen Scrivens and Rhiannon Jenkins

Programmed as part of the Liverpool Improvisation Festival, this piece of work was beautiful. The work was making its UK debut having previously played international festivals in Stockholm and Dublin.

Created by intensive care consultant Owen Scrivens and Rhiannon Jenkins this improvised work explores the process of death, the impact of receiving a terminal illness diagnosis, the impact on loved ones, the funeral and finally the void at the end that is filled with grief. Prior to the show Scrivens collected suggestions from the audience including the song that will be played at the funeral, in this case ‘Highway to Hell’.

The cast of five led by Scriven walk onto the stage and with the simple use of chairs the work opens with partners Jenkins and Irina Wilder being given the news that Wilders cancer has returned. This scene was electric as it discusses the role of communication in medicine, the pair having been told previously they were ‘out of the woods’ by the surgeon. The disbelief and anger between the pair was excruciating and this was offset by the honest Scrivens who is tasked with apologising for his colleague and explaining clearly the next stages and timeframe for Wilder. The scene edits taking us forward to Wilders place of work, in which we find her less than supportive manager who berates her for her sloppy work as an accountant. Wilder is clearly in shock and she refuses to speak about her situation even to her parents played by David Escobedo and Jeanette Clarke.

Running in parallel to the main theme is the troubled relationship between mother and daughter. The disappointment the mother feels in her daughter’s choice of partner is consistently returned to throughout. Clarke skilfully turns the screw, cranking up the tension throughout. In the back of the audiences’ mind, is what happens to her daughter’s wife in this strained relationship after her death. In complete contrast is her relationship with her father played by Escobedo, defined by their shared love of sports and the repeated line of ‘don’t tell your mother’ this is a relationship which is relaxed and loving and often where the moments of humour emerge.

Living.Dying.Dead is a brilliant piece of work, delivered by an incredible cast of improvisers who skilfully use silence to create subtext. This is best demonstrated in the scene in which Jenkins tells the gathered guests that she wanted a celebration for her wife and that the family did not really want her there. An uncomfortable truth and a reminder that you can pick your partner but their family you cannot.

This piece of spontaneous theatre presents some difficult scenes and ones we have all faced or will face at some point in our lives. Scrivens and Jenkins along with the cast have created something which is much needed – an honest conversation about death.

Reviewed on 21 April 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Brutally Honest

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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