REVIEW: Learning How To Die @ ARC, Stockton (29.4.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Conversations are the soul of theatre: how we make sense of and excavate the world around us, its inherent drama, tragedy, rhythms and lessons. In many ways, all theatre is “about this” and indeed we could point to the honesty of almost everything we see on stage, yet Luca Rutherford’s one-woman show about understanding and accepting death exposes the raw, throbbing nerve of these interactions.

Working at Northern Stage and ARC as part of the latter venue’s NEAD Residency Scheme, Rutherford’s 40-minute solo piece considers her relationship with her father, whose terminal illness forms the root of the piece. During rehearsal, almost inconceivably, Rutherford found out a friend was on-board the Germanwings Flight 9525 which crashed over the French Alps in March. What she and director Iain Bloomfield have created is a sober and hugely open account of the knife-edge emotions, the spectrum of moods, which are condensed, oftentimes, into single instances. Recordings and voices of reflection on death, painted with the kind of gentle humour which fills us with both heartache and awe, ask how we might physically talk about death in different ways.

It conjures up the self-reflexive work that Hannah Nicklin performs, particularly recalling the exchanges found in A Conversation with My Father. The difficulty with this type of autobiographical theatre is how to really carve open one’s emotions in ways that go beyond description or narration. There is a lot needed in Learning How to Die to really drive it forward: a tighter script, nimbler pace, a more animated and sustained energy, but these will come as the piece itself develops. We are given tags and sweets at the start of the performance, yet there’s a deeper conversation to be had about how to integrate these props beyond simple audience tokens. Still, these are examples of how generous the show is, a demanding and cathartic work which unpacks our experiences and asks daring questions.

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