Brighton Fringe 2019
The Birth of Death is a one-woman tour de force. Joanna Tremarco leads the audience on a profoundly moving and disarmingly funny journey, looking at death and how we approach it. In this triumphant piece of partially improvised and semi autobiographical physical theatre, the subject is navigated with great sensitivity, humour and courage.
Tackling the subject of Death is a challenging one, particularly here in the West where we have a tendency to be culturally avoidant of this inevitable reality. It is strangely comforting and refreshing to find that Joanne Tremarco is clearly unafraid to face it head on. Both she and director Yael Karavan are no strangers to difficult topics and are a perfect match. Tremarco’s impeccable skills as a professional fool make her the perfect guide to venture into such potentially treacherous waters and Karavan’s background of clowning, Butoh and mime influences are clearly complementary as she enables Temarco’s quest and together they traverse the liminal space between life and the after-life.
The Birth of Death spreads the net very wide and approaches this tricky subject from every conceivable angle, leaving no stone unturned and also making the piece very accessible to all. Drawing on conversations with her mother at the end of her life, her experience as a death doula and direct interactions with the audience, Tremarco explores the edges of the human experience, the cycles of life, how we and other cultures deal with death resulting in quite a profound odyssey. Prepare yourself for 60 minutes of laughter, tears, grief, loss, shock and perhaps a little release.
Tremarco’s experience in playing the Fool is evident and she wields this craft with great skill and sensitivity, knowing precisely when to put the audience at ease, when to pull them into the darkness and when to push the pace of the piece. Flitting effortlessly between planned and unplanned moments, she shares her own experiences and invites the audience to share theirs. A testament to her craft is her ability to guide the audience completely out of their collective comfort zones without them seeming to notice. At first, lulled into a state of calm by a singing bowl, then thrust into intense lamentations, then relieved as we laugh at the absurdity of sharing ideal ways to go or near death stories.
The production uses very minimal lighting, set and props to maximum affect. The basic black space serves the dark realms of the unknown perfectly and in stark contrast, red and white are used to great affect, resonating with both the pain and hope expressed. Two particularly brilliant moments occur near the end. First a “dance of guilt’ is beautifully illustrated where Tremarco, in a red dress binds herself with a red strap, and struggles to disentangle herself, and second, a simple white cloth becomes first the shroud of her mother which she cradles appearing painfully realistic, it is then elegantly unravelled to become a corridor of transitional light.
This tragic comedy is stunning on many levels and possesses qualities of a spiritual journey about it. In observing the audience, it is clear that Joanne Tremarco and Yael Karavan have created a safe space to address this potentially awkward subject and quite poignantly, this show also serves as a tonic for a particular brand of British sensibilities, which are perhaps in need of a soothing balm.