Death (on a shoestring)

Accidental Theatre presentes 'Death (on a shoestring)' as part of the 2012 Belfast Festival at Queen's.

Accidental Theatre presentes 'Death (on a shoestring)' as part of the 2012 Belfast Festival at Queen's.

Accidental Theatre presentes 'Death (on a shoestring)' as part of the 2012 Belfast Festival at Queen's.

Accidental Theatre presentes 'Death (on a shoestring)' as part of the 2012 Belfast Festival at Queen's.

Heaven, pace Talking Heads’ songwriter David Byrne, is far from being a place where nothing ever happens. In Death (on a shoestring), staged by the Accidental Theatre company for this year’s Belfast Festival at Queen’s, it’s a veritable hot-bed of activity, mostly of a politically incorrect nature.

That, at least, is the premise of Dave Kinghan’s new play. In his version of paradise, chief angel Diligence is essentially a paper-pusher (God has “retired”, apparently), officiously administering the operations of Death, a portly factotum who ushers new-dead souls into the heavenly kingdom, where they encounter an environment ruled by social rigidity, with preferential allocations of the plushest housing.

Into this bastion of ultra-conservatism comes Cecilia Malarkey, freshly deceased activist of the Worldwide Equality Committee. She’s (predictably) outraged by how Diligence runs heaven, and begins campaigning to create a more egalitarian environment. In this she is abetted by Derek, an ex-colleague, shot dead (on earth) at the same gay rights demonstration. Their tireless (and frequently tiresome) efforts to update heaven on the equality agenda issue occupy most of the hour and a half which Death takes to unravel.

The problem for the spectator is that what Kinghan is presenting in the play is not so much a set of characters as a set of attitudes. The plotting is stultifyingly schematic, the approach to dialogue trivially stereotypical: the whole thing feels like a bunch of undergraduates bickering superficially over issues they’ve half-gleaned from occasional attendance at their politics or sociology lectures.

Death (On a Shoestring)Death is also intended to be funny, but in the main it isn’t. Unless, that is, you find 'jokes' about women who don’t cook for their husbands being lesbians, angels feigning shock and repulsion at the mere mention of the word 'homosexual', and choice coinages such as “big-bottom burglar” intrinsically amusing. In which case you will be royally entertained all evening, as Kinghan’s script is full of them.

Kinghan’s heaven is, in fact, a profoundly homophobic destination, for reasons one can only guess at. Among other things, this prompts Cecilia to foist a non-gender-specific language policy on all of its inhabitants, removing 'he' and 'she' from the permitted vocabulary, and replacing them with 'yo'. Cue endless, and endlessly irritating, expressions of bemusement from the succession of characters constrained to avail themselves of the new, wiped-clean pronoun.

A smattering of songs, mainly of a light, music-hall variety and accompanied on ukelele, punctuate the action, but add little to it. They’re competently taken by a hard-working cast of six, spearheaded by the earnestly do-gooding Cecilia of Róisín Magee, and Chris Grant’s Derek, her punctiliously attentive “homosexualist” (as he’s termed) sidekick. The set (plain backdrop with half a dozen suitcases hanging over it) and costumes (neatly defining the characters’ role-identities) are functionally effective, and sound-cues are slickly managed, with one glaring exception which left Róisín Magee’s Cecilia temporarily stranded.

Ultimately, though, Death (on a shoestring) founders because its trivialities patronise the audience, because its humour is puerile and repetitive, and because it isn’t about anything substantial, beyond a feeble re-enactment of the old nostrum that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is university revue or skit-show material, really, and doesn’t sit comfortably in the less forgiving environment of professional theatre.

Terry Blain

  • Review
  • Theatre

Death (on a shoestring) by Dave Kinghan

23 - 27 October 2012

Produced by Accidental Theatre
In The Baby Grand, Grand Opera House

Directed by Richard Lavery

Music/Sound Design: Martin Byrne

Movement Director: Eileen McClory

Dramaturg: Emily DeDakis

Stage Manager: Jack Geary

Costume Design: Karishma Kusurkar

With: Daisy Brindley, Stephen Clarke, Gary Crossan, Morgaine FitzSymons, Chris Grant, Róisín Magee


Presented as part of Belfast Festival at Queen's 2012.