A human has died, and – in the blankness of nowhere, somewhere or everywhere – Death hands her a clipboard. He needs to understand her death so that she can be allocated to the right place. The human remembers that she committed suicide, but she cannot remember why. This is a problem.
Death and the Human uses dance and physical theatre combined with traditional narrative to tell its story. The cast is made up of five members: the Human, and the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Death, War, Famine and Pestilence), with the performers also doubling as souls when necessary.
The subject matter of the play, suicide, is very dark, and is a sensitive area for many people. Unfortunately, in this play it is handled with all the subtlety of a brick, and the moralising tone of the performance ends up being extremely offensive. The advertising also suggests that the play is “darkly comic”; it is certainly dark, but it is not funny at any point.
Similarly, the programme states that Death is “a twit”, but this does not come across in the play. Death apparently has “always wanted to know what it feels like to be human”, but again, this is not explored much further than beyond this utterance.
War, Famine and Pestilence each have a section of the play in which they try and claim the Human for themselves. These pieces are narrated by the respective horseman, while the other performers use dance and physical theatre to act out the situations being described. The narrators pick times and subjects from history in order to represent themselves; War discusses the Allied bombing of Dresden during the Second World War, for example. These narrations are intensified by the use of relevant music and lighting and are highly effective.
The physical performances are, on the whole, very well done. However, the venue was very small and the movements seemed cramped. This was especially relevant in War's section; two of the performers were writhing on the floor of the central aisle and it was impossible for most of the audience to see what was going on.
This is a very mixed production. The dance and physical theatre is commendable, though perhaps hindered by a poorly-selected venue. But the approach to the subject matter is crass, and the show is misrepresented by its advertising. It would have been better if the company had not tried to do so much within one show, and instead focused on creating a more coherent, more nuanced piece.