It’s 2019 and death, the one inevitability, is still a taboo subject. Fascinated by the lack of transparency in the death and funeral industry, artist Lara Thoms has teamed up with ex-funeral director Scott Turnbull to lift the lid and answer some common questions about dying in The Director.
Structured as part training video, part interview, and part tongue-in-cheek critique of the exploitation running rampant in the funeral industry, this production covers the many little-known area of death. From collecting the dead body to organising the funeral service, to the process of cremation or burial, Turnbull has seen it all and Thoms wants to know about it.
After inheriting the family funeral home from his parents, Turnbull took up the business before selling it off to a large funeral corporation. He stayed on as manager and continued to develop his unconventional directorial style to do his best by the deceased and their family. With an easy and unflappable way about him, Turnbull shares a typical day in the office and specific stories about memorable funerals. Turnbull demonstrates a clear care in his practise of farewelling the dead even as he blends burnt Weetbix into “ashes”. Thoms provides an alternative naivety about the nitty-gritty of dying and asks the unsavoury bodily questions.
Their experimental and compartmentalised performance style lent itself well to a casual and curious tone that was most effective when engaging with the audience questions and when watching Thoms practise preparing the body. However, direction from Liz Dunn attempted to maintain the conversational style in other moments, in dialogue between the two performers and monologues from Thoms about her experience with the funeral process, and it was here that momentum wavered and the production became unmoored. As a piece-y, semi-investigative production, The Director struggles to establish itself as a cohesive performance and instead seems to meander in an interested by unsure narrative drift. Compelling ideas and revelations loosely strung together to the detriment of the overall impact.
As a theatrical performance, the production is rough around the edges but as an exploration into the funeral industry made up of multi-national corporations designed to make millions off of our cultural tradition of funerals, The Director is a stimulating piece. Whether encouraging reflection on the audience’s experience of death, making a list of non-cliched songs to play at your own funeral, or having a discussion with loved ones about what they hope you get out of their funeral services, this production touches on all manner of stories and consideration.
If you’ve never given a lot of thought to death or the cultural and personal significance of funerals, The Director will prepare you for the other side of life.
The Director is running at the Sydney Opera House Studio May 15th – 19th