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Brighton Fringe 2016

Crème de la Crem

The Brighton Death Festival

Genre: Contemporary, Family, Interactive, Performance Art

Venue: Extra-Mural Chapel, Woodvale Crematorium


Low Down

The first showing of an interactive performance exploring our death rituals, mainly performed by Belinda Chapman and Peter Murphy, performers and celebrants at Light on Life, based in Lewes, supported by colleagues from ARKA Original Funerals and The Modern Funeral. This original piece features the deaths of two people and their funeral arrangements, and is written and directed by Belinda.


It was inspired decision to perform a play about death and dying in a crematorium chapel. From the moment the audience entered the space, and sat in the pews, facing a mortuary slab, a pair of bamboo supports, and a ceremonial table with candles and rose petals, there was an air of hushed anticipation.

The performance worked well as an educational piece – deftly structured, evenly paced, informative and entertaining. Peter Murphy’s opening words connected us in the lives that had passed through the chapel and explained why we were there: to experience two very different types of funerals and how they came about, so that we could leave better able to make a clear plan for ourselves and those we loved.

Murphy then became Michael, a man who died suddenly and without any end of life planning, and, later in the performance, we met Sandra, played by Belinda Chapman, who, after a cancer diagnosis, had planned the end of her life in detail. Both performances were strong and real – they skilfully represented every man and every woman in the chapel and in the world outside.

Humour and tragedy stood side by side in an inspired cameo performance by Tommy Lawford, undertaker at The Modern Funeral, playing a grotesque traditional funeral director. There was also a huge dollop of irony in the appearance of Cara Mair and Sarah Clarke, funeral directors from ARKA Original Funerals, doing a terrible job of applying mortuary make-up to Chapman; the exact opposite of how they do things in their daily work.

Live performance mixed well with video and slide shows. There was also a beautiful element of ritual, which helped bridge entertainment and reality, cleverly rooting what we’d learned deep inside us before we walked out into the world again. A haunting rendition of Ride On by Sarah Clarke was the icing on the cake. At one point it seemed like she might have forgotten the words and for a moment, I couldn’t work out whether that was part of the performance or not. But it didn’t matter. It was achingly real – like a life well-lived.

The whole experience was thought-provoking and entertaining. For some of us, it was also very emotional – I wept when I witnessed the slide show showing just how beautiful a well-thought out funeral could be – and I wasn’t the only one.

Crème de la Crem is a must see for anyone who’d like a great funeral. With a little more rehearsal this play would be brilliant, and I’d like to see it performed throughout the country – ideally in venues which give it added meaning, like the Extra-Mural Chapel.   I also suggest that the performers be unashamedly up front about their bias towards alternative funerals, rather than saying that the play is ‘non-judgmental’. It’s OK to have an agenda – that’s what this kind of art is all about – and this piece does have a clear agenda. Owning it would make the performance even more refreshing.