How do you get people to talk about death and dying? Can exploring the science of death and thinking about the future of death, when death might no longer exist, provide a starting point?
Whilst science fiction, from Dracula to Frankenstein to The Lazarus Effect, has covered such ground before, Am I Dead Yet? is inspired by the biomedical idea that 'death is not a fixed moment in time but a process that can be reversed'.
Whilst the eye, hand and electrograph might sense, clinical death (the cessation of the heartbeat, breathing and brain function), biological death, occurs later and is visible at a microscopic level, when cells deprived of oxygen, stop functioning and begin to breakdown. Indeed biological cell death is happening in all of us, all of the time - old cells must die to make room for newer, healthier ones. This carefully orchestrated process is called programmed cell death or, cell suicide, and is a natural part of our bodies' everyday lives.
The show's creators worked closely with Dr Andy Lockey, whose passion 'to prevent premature and untimely death' informs the show, and upfronts some of these science death facts. The Wellcome Trust, who supported the development of the show, hosted their own death exhibition exploring objects, artefacts and death rituals 'to open a window upon our enduring desire to make peace with death. Am I Dead Yet? makes light of the grim topic. A pre-show gambit, which invites us to write about our own death, is quickly dispelled as the show sparks to life and riffs off staying alive with a comedic stint featuring both performers singing in their underpants.
These two ambulance men, one older, one novice, share stories of death and invite us to entertain the idea of death being part of everyday life. Called to a railway line, they search for body parts at the site of a suicide and, later, re-count how a cold body, a frozen body, helps to slow biological death and make it easier to bring someone back to life hours after their clinical death. A woman trained in giving cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR is invited to take centre stage to show us how it's done... on a dummy of course.
Whilst thoughts of death and dying are held at bay by the scientific and comedic angle, you will leave the show singing about death. And, in fleetingly speculating on life without death, the show opens the door, albeit ajar, to the euthanasia and the 'right to die' debate. Prising this door open a little further, there is certainly room to deepen this topic, scientifically or otherwise, by connecting it to Disability politics. Liz Carr, actor, comedian and disability rights campaigner is a member of Not Dead Yet and speaks out against assisted suicide. Timely, as, this September, legislation that would give terminally ill patients the right to die is to be debated in the House of Commons; legislation that Not Dead Yet seeks to oppose.
Whilst Liz Carr features at a main #TSOTF event to posit her provocation, 'Rather Dead Than Disabled', the creators of Am I Dead Yet? have created room for further exploration by hosting a Death Cafe, where audiences, 'often strangers, gather to eat cake and discuss death'.
Indeed, in recent years, death becomes the Fringe, as it features in a series of shows under the banner 'Death and the Fringe'.
And, there is much more to talk about! (EO)
AM I DEAD YET, Unlimited Theatre, 19-30 August (various), Traverse Theatre.
Venue is wheelchair accessible. https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/am-i-dead-yet
Access Performances: British Sign Language - Fri 28 Aug, 11.15pm
Death on The Fringe
Wellcome Collection, Death exhibition
A Code of Practice for the Diagnosis and Confirmation of Death http://bit.ly/1U5AIJW
The AWARE study exploring the relationship between mind and brain during clinical death: http://bit.ly/1sj0zEk
Not Dead Yet
Dying Matters dyingmatters.org
NHS guidelines on how to perform CPR: bit.ly/cprnhs