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Why would you want to watch a play about death? We investigate The Nine O'Clock Slot

 

ice&fire are a theatre company with a difference... and a moral purpose. They explore human rights stories through performance. Their latest production - The Nine O'Clock Slot - is perhaps not what you'd expect from your average trip to the theatre. Emily Shipp talks to artist and writer Annecy Lax about death.

 

Emily Shipp: Tell us how The Nine O'Clock Slot came about - what was the inspiration?
Annecy Lax: The title of play comes directly from a number of the interviews that we conducted as research for this piece, that the ‘Nine O’Clock Slot’ denoted a paupers’ funeral, as it was the earliest slot in the day, the slot that nobody wants, the slot where the council buries those who have nobody else to bury them.

This play is about those who have fallen between the cracks, and it uses the point of their death to examine their lives and to ask questions about whether we can make every life – and death – matter.

ES: It covers some pretty dark subject matter - how do you keep your audience in the land of the living?
AL:
Laughter is an important part of the piece; much of the play is very playful and lighthearted, or cut through with seams of dark humour. The form is fluid and fantastical, it is designed to keep us on our toes, to surprise us.

The play is quirky, has curveballs and corners, what we see and what we hear not always meeting in the middle. We have brought in music, movement and film to create multiple layers, and to subvert as much as to complement.

ES: The Nine O'Clock Slot was created following conversations with 'professionals in the death and dying industry' - what were those conversations like? Were they as grim as you might expect?
AL:
One of the most evocative and emotional interviews was with a chaplain who conducted the pubic health burials – it was a genuine revelation to see how much he was affected by the funerals where the person is buried alone. He always tried to find some way of marking the person’s passing, even if nothing at all was known about them.

We also spoke with a number of people that work in anatomy and pathology – and on occasions that did test my mettle and my stomach.

We spoke to some very interesting and unusual ‘expert witnesses’ such as the academic who studies memorial tattooing (yes, putting ashes under people’s skin), or the people who are sending their bodies to be cryogenically frozen in Russia (it’s cheaper there), and the company that are developing QR codes for gravestones (scan and hear a recording from the deceased).

ES: The performance combines song, dance, physical comedy... and burials. Not quite your usual combination of activities. How did you bring these elements together?
AL:
The use of song and physical performance has become really central to the piece, and it all started off with the song ‘The Nine O’Clock Trot’… This was a piece written for us by the eminent performance poet, Tongue Fu’s own Chris Redmond. His inspiration for the song was an interview that we conducted with a group of older women at a day centre in the East-End.

The idea of songs kept haunting the writing process – we couldn’t possibly have songs in a play about death and dying, could we? – but in the end, working with the wealth of songs that deal with this very subject, we saw how central music and song were to this piece.

ES: What do you hope the audience will most remember?
AL:
The stories. I hope that they will leave the theatre and see our characters on the streets, in their local supermarkets and pubs, perhaps in their neighbouring houses. The play focuses on the stories of four central characters: Connor, Margaret, Sarah and X, and we hope that everybody will find something to relate to, and something that surprises or moves them in each of the story strands.

But I also really want the audience to be blown away by the look and feel of the piece – the visual and physical ambition of the performance style, set against Polly Sullivan’s beautiful and delicate design, and Douglas O’Connell’s haunting and ethereal film design.

ES: And finally, what's the best reason to go and watch The Nine O'Clock Slot?
AL:
Go to poke your noses around London’s newest performance venue, the subterranean spaces of The Red Gallery and then get drawn into a beautiful and intriguing world. It really is a 360 degree, total theatre experience – cracking open the taboo of talking about death and dying – by singing about it instead!

Catch The Nine O'Clock Slot from 26th March at The Red Gallery Shoreditch. Tickets here.