“York’s Dead Good Festival” is back for the second year running and with that, Next Door But One’s production of Laura Wade’s play “Colder than Here” has kicked of proceedings in style. The concept of this festival is to bring people closer together, to help us “open up” and communicate our concerns about death to each other. Many other cultures are more embracing of the fact that death is a very natural part of life. If we in Britain discussed and naturalised death more, maybe our mutual journey towards it might be a bit less scary?
In this context, Laura Wade’s “Colder Than Here” is the perfect play to highlight our differing approaches to handling death. The play presents an average family of four people, struggling to come to terms with Mother “Myra’s” terminal cancer and how this tragedy influences each character’s mental and emotional states. There are parts of the play when turmoil and anguish reign and contrastingly, periods of great normality and humour.
Theatre company “Next Door But One” have presented this play beautifully. Director Matthew Harper-Hardcastle has allowed the play’s writing to organically lead the audience but he has added many deft touches throughout the production, to maximise the over all experience. The set is minimal, which gives the text, cast and coffin more impact. The music was composed especially for the production by Joshua Goodman and is gentle and poignant. Matthew has helped the play to be accessible and believable and made sure that the humour in the play has been effectively realised. The cast were outstanding, they all handled the family dynamic within the play naturally and with great synergy with one another. The Bradley Family consist of organised and emotionally open Mother “Myra”, played by Susanna Cunningham; quiet and emotionally repressed Father “Alec”, played by Maurice Crichton; judgemental and reliable older Sister “Harriet” played by Ceridwen Smith and juvenile, irresponsible, yet vulnerable younger Sister “Jenna” played by Anna Rogers. The characters do have shifts in their behaviour by the end of the play, whether they learn how to cope with what is happening to them or they begin to feel lost in their tragedy.
In summary, Myra has a strong desire to be buried in a cardboard coffin, amongst other environmentally friendly considerations. Alec is struggling to come to terms with losing his wife and can not understand her desire to move away from traditional funeral practices. Harriet thinks that she has probably prepared enough for what is to come but the reality is sadly different for her. Jenna has always been the reckless and unreliable member of the family but there is more strength to her than first appears.
Many people in the audience cried, laughed and stayed after the show to thank the director and cast for their touching piece. Next Door But One are all very talented and represent a very high calibre of the arts community. Their work is accessible, artistic yet not at all pretentious and present original productions in addition to established publications. Their productions are buzzing with energy, originality and are guaranteed to emotionally involve their audiences. I am excited to see what Next Door But One present as their next production because, based on this play and their previous work, future events are destined to be fantastic.
The play was presented at the two appropriate sites of York Cemetery Chapel on 11th & 12th May and is next on at York’s St Nicks Environment Centre on 17th & 18th May. Tickets have, unsurprisingly, all sold out and all proceeds go as charitable donations to St Leonards Hospice.Website