Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to get through this thing called death. Electric word, death: it means forever, and that’s a mighty long time. But we’re here to tell you there’s something else: an improvised play which lets the audience take part in someone else’s funeral party.
Appearing at the Vaults as part of the LetsTalk programme of works in association with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, A Wake In Progress has an interesting premise with an equally interesting twist: each night, the audience are invited to attend a funeral party for a still-living fictional character suffering from terminal illness. As the story progresses, key script elements and cast choices are crowdsourced from the pews.
It’s a neat concept even if it turns out to be a Frankenstein-like mishmash of ideas. As a piece of theatre, though, it is sadly DOA. It will take more than jaunty episodes of audience-poking to breathe life into Joel Samuels’ script which, even for a one hour slice of improv-drama, is as thin, clichéd and earnest as a hospital waiting room leaflet and peppered with navel-gazing lines such as “memory is bullshit because life is bullshit.”
The game efforts of the able cast (Andrew David, Amy Fleming, Molly Small, Stella Taylor and Daniel Ward) are drowned in a setup which very rarely allows for meaningful connection to any of the shallowly-defined characters. Liz Bacon’s disjointed direction throws us from scene to scene with the end result being akin to a choppy episode of Holby City being enacted by the Legz Akimbo theatre troupe.
That’s a shame as the subject matter is one of the very few that is both universal and important. A Wake In Progress does stick its landing — aided in part by the shameless last minute audience gifts of bubbly, chocolate and party hats — but this play’s premise and its delivery cries out to be a liminal experience from crown to corns, not just in its final act. Personally, when I go, I hope my friends and family eschew a funeral and follow Prince’s suggestion: “Let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts/Look for the purple banana/’Til they put us in the truck.“
A Wake In Progress, The Vaults, Waterloo. Tickets from £12, until Sunday 10 February 2019.
Last Updated 08 February 2019