Next Door But One using theatre to prove that conversations about death don’t have to be scary or morbid.
‘I remember 6 years ago leaving the studio of Theatre by the Lake, Keswick with my mum and saying to her ‘that’s the sort of thing you’d do’’ recalls Matt Harper-Hardcastle, Artistic Director of theatre company Next Door But One. The production he is referring to is Laura Wade’s Colder Than Here, and the comparison he was making was between his own mother and the play’s central character, Myra. At that point, never did Matt expect for his life to draw so many parallels with the play 4 years later, when his mum was diagnosed with bone cancer.
‘It was less than 5 months between my mum receiving her diagnosis and her passing away’ says Matt, ‘It was such a devastating shock that ricocheted throughout our family, but something which my mum faced with strength, honesty, humour and a lot of organisation – similar to the protagonist in Wade’s play’.
This has shaped the recent work of Next Door But One, seeing them produce an autobiographic play on motherhood, Any Mother Would, which was performed at York Disability Pride and the Great Yorkshire Fringe, running a 6 month participatory arts programme, Good Grief, for people with recent experience of bereavement, funded by Two Ridings Community Foundation, and perform within York’s Dead Good Festival.
Working alongside St Leonard’s Hospice to produce York’s Dead Good Festival, reiterated to Next Door But One how conversations about death, dying and grief needed to be rephrased. On one of St Leonard’s Hospice’s banners it reads ‘Talking about dying won’t make it happen – any more than talking about sex will make you pregnant’, yet we fear it, we brand it morbid and don’t think of the consequences of not talking about it; less than a third of people have discussed their wishes around dying, and only 4% have written it down (Dying Matters).
Next Door But One believe the arts have a large role to play in opening up this conversation – making it one that is engaging and invigorating, one that provides a different space and one that uses a different vocabulary in which to speak about death, dying and grief.
Now the company are being supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England to produce a professional production of Laura Wade’s Colder Than Here which will bookend York’s Dead Good Festival in 2019. It will be accompanied by workshops, talks and presentations to support people within this difficult, but important conversation.
‘Since I saw the play in 2012, I’ve always wanted to direct my own version’ says Matt, ‘and after losing my mum, and now working with St Leonard’s Hospice on the festival, it is the perfect time to make this work and bring people into it.’
Next Door But One have started rehearsals and just announced their cast. Returning to the company will be Anna Rogers who will be joined by Maurice Crichton, Susanna Cunningham and Ceridwen Smith. Colder Than Here will be performed in May 2019 at York Cemetery Chapel and St Nicks - Nature Reserve.Website