Review: Death Comes To Us All
Death takes her by the hand, leads her to a pool of light at the apron of the stage and she tells us her last moments. There’s light at the end, she says, and disappears off stage. I sniff, a little, and hold back tears.
Death Comes To Us All is a remarkably honest, very moving and well-constructed piece of improvised theatre. Only starting with character names, the Best on Tap cast takes no prompts from the audience, and moves into a piece of drama, where almost everyone dies in the end.
Death, in this case, is played by Wiremu Tuhiwai, who casts an imposing figure outside the theatre as he welcomes us in, but dances around and acts the silent fool on stage – an unseeable ghost amongst the living figures – before he grasps a character and leads them to the front of the stage to give them their last moments.
The characters are diverse and far between. There’s Hannah (Clare Kerrison), a fashion photographer, who’s desperately in love with her soon-to-be husband, Brian (Barry Miskimmin), Jane and Alison, another couple who can’t quite decide which one should be the ‘stay at home wife’ (Katie Whitaker, Nicola Pauling), Louise, a barista (Mary Little), Nigel, an IT specialist (Geoff Simmons) and Michael, a painter (Matt Hutton) – all who have stories that interweave and relate.
Alison has to fire Nigel, but isn’t sure if she wants to, Louise’s cafe is the hottest place to hang out in town, and Jane feels stuck not working at home. Some of them are considering children.
And they’re all going to die.
For a piece about death, this show is kindly. The characters feel real, and likeable – from Louise’s bubbly baristaing, to Jane and Alison’s back massages – they all seem like people you’d meet in your life as you wander through Wellington.
There are no dramatic death scenes, or murders, or tearful last moments, time is just frozen as the character dies, and resumes on afterwards. It’s better, in a way. It hurts more, seeing the next scene start up without the character you liked still in place, but it feels better too. When one character dies, his absence is obvious, but not apparent. When six have died, it’s blatant.
It’s not as though this piece is an abridged episode of Midsomer Murders, time is more of the killer. A lot of the deaths aren’t spelled out, just remarked upon, and the story ends roughly twenty years after it began.
Underscored by beautiful cello work by Sebastian Morgan-Lynch, the music speeds up as Death is approaching, and hovers gently in the background when it’s not – more of a reminder, than of a caution.
Improvised theatre can be hit-and-miss in some cases, and it’s usually very fun on either side of that line, but this show was absolutely a win for me. It feels real, in some ways, and timely. You confront your own mortality, but not in a way that hurts, exactly. Death holds tension on a knife’s edge, but not in a way that stings.
And I absolutely loved it.