When the actor plays dead no one’s fooled for a moment.
We’ve long been gripped by the strange game of playing dead; that particular absurd edge of theatre in which the performers are charged with approaching the one thing, which above all others perhaps, can’t ever be convincingly represented. When we’re at the theatre after all, once all the drama and exertions of the death scene are done, the actor is always still breathing as she lies there on the floor. Always still breathing, eyes closed and waiting patiently for the curtain call. No-one’s fooled. No-one’s taken in. Doesn’t matter how much fake blood, how much yelling, how much sobbing, how much stillness. No one thinks this is real.
But at the same time there remains a strange charge to this game, a culturaland emotional electricity which crackles and sparks the air around the actor who lives-but-dies, or who lives but plays dead. The death scene. The appearance of the ghost. The appearance of death himself. As if the patent absurdity of these things – acknowledged, known by all – always contains nonetheless a flicker, shimmer, crack or opening to some other possibility. Like kids fooling with a Ouija board, intent on scaring themselves, we’ve been back around this again and again, always approaching from different angles, with different intensities, unable to let it be. We’ve been dying from the early shows like Let The Water.. with its glorious competition of tomato-ketchup movie deaths right through to the later works like Bloody Mess with its blank diva-death at the centre, a scene which Cathy claims with comical bombast will “break something inside you forever”. No one’s fooled. But still we come back – as a culture and as a group of artists – waiting till there’s no one around, drawing the curtains and starting to play dead again.”
Tim Etchells, Sheffield, 2008