I never expected that at this early stage of my 20s I’d have started planning my funeral. Last night, along with a group of strangers, I got to talking about my post-mortem preferences – from music and burial style to whether I’d like my Facebook page to live on after my death. I’d certainly never anticipated this conversation taking place, let alone it being such an uplifting experience but that’s what A First Class Death will do to you. Baseless Fabric’s latest offering invites you into a world where the macabre subjects of death and entombment are reimaged as approachable and downright celebratory.
For the first half of the production we are led out of the Vaults for a brief, but highly informative tour around the Lower Marsh and Waterloo area. There are six tour guides, each of whom is an A First Class Death Bespoke Funeral Service team member; we have Amber (Rajneet Sidhu) the organisation’s legal officer. Sidhu makes for an excellent tour guide, offsetting the barrage of historical information she must dispense with such effervescent passion that you could genuinely forget that she’s an actor performing a role. We learn about the London Necropolis Railway, how the Victorians outsourced their burials beyond the city to Brockwood Cemetery, Surrey and are introduced to the premise that we have signed up for this service upon its grand reopening.
The latter half of the performance takes us out of the cold night air and back into the wonderfully muggy subterranean tunnels for a sales conference meets celebration of life and death. Still with our guide we are shunted from stall to stall discussing the various features of our afterlife plans and the atmosphere remains surprisingly chipper even when we have to rush between certain stations. It is in these moments that we see the cracks in Joanna Turner’s production, as once again crowd management in a promenade piece proves a bigger task than anticipated. However, the cast’s ‘can do’ attitude in the face of these rough edges in a way adds to the believability of this organisation and the event we have attended.
A First Class Death is particularly effective as a promenade piece because the physical setting and the concept are inseparable; it doesn’t feel like a gimmick or another piece on the bandwagon of immersive theatre. The physical experience of exploring the locations offers the audience a genuine interaction with the stories they encounter, even with playwright Jason Hall’s fictional narrative woven amongst the factual. It’s an evening unlike many others, where this relatively short piece of theatre has the power to transform morbid fears and fascinations into conversations as casual as coffee table chatter.
A First Class Death is playing the Vault Festival until 8 February. For more information and tickets, see the Vault Festival website.