Pros: This is a very personal show created from the writer’s need to share her experience with death in a relaxed format, and provides sweets
Cons: It eventually turns into a motivational speech about appreciating your life, its moments of joy and the people in it. The ending is abrupt.
One day, each of us will die. So will our family, friends and everyone else we care about. Considering that fact, nothing else in our lives really matters because we’re just going to die anyway. Learning How To Die at the Ovalhouse offers a frantic speech, emphasising our trite decisions about coffee, clothing, money and other day-to-day routines. White noise gradually increases in volume as the performance’s intensity increases, until it abruptly ends in silence.
Writer and performer Luca Alexandra Rutherford is right, of course, and her opening monologue is excellent. She has high energy, a strong stage presence, yet she possesses warmth and charm that endears her to the audience. She warns us that, ‘the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off’. What proceeds are some intensely personal stories of loss from Rutherford’s own life – or at least I am assuming they are – what with the truthfulness of her delivery and direct address to the audience.
Rutherford manages to prevent lengthy monologue-ing, a potential downfall of one-person shows, with the use of voiceover recording and a digital counter tallying the number of global deaths as the show goes on (It’s 1.8 deaths per second, by the way). Rather than a performance, it was more of a conversation with moments of improvisation and audience interaction. The intimate upstairs studio theatre at Ovalhouse supported this intimacy without feeling oppressive. Rutherford is calm and relaxed, but with the warmth of a primary school teacher. With adaptation, this show might be suitable for children and make the idea of death less scary.
Learning How To Die is staged during Dying Matters Week and aims to celebrate talking about death and bereavement. Rutherford’s show certainly does that, but her promise to piss us off never quite comes to fruition. As her stories continue and we learn her personal stories, Rutherford’s agenda becomes more clear. As we see her struggle with the deaths in her life, she begins to remind us to make our lives matter. It’s not how we die, but how we live.
We are asked to reflect on a person and moment where we truly felt alive, but in this the show becomes preachier, or like a motivational speech. Even though the intentions were lovely, the execution did not carry through the end of the play. After we write down our moment on a tag and swap it with someone else, the show abruptly ends. It’s always nice to be reminded to appreciate the little moments of positivity in life, but I wasn’t pissed off about death and my attitude about it hasn’t changed.
Rutherford is clearly a gifted performer with some interesting ideas and the motivation to share her stories in the aid of helping others. Her intention is certainly noble, but needs some refining in order to take a more radical view of the topic and move people to rage.
Director: Iain Bloomfield
Writer: Luca Alexandra Rutherford
Script Advisor: Chris Thorpe
Producer: Arc Stockton
Booking until: 23 May, 2015
Box office: 020 7582 7680
Booking Link: http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/booktickets/HowToDie2015