“Horror, laughter, walk-outs, walk-ins, tears and shock”: Ridiculusmus duo Jon Haynes and David Woods discuss their new show Die! Die! Die! Old People Die!
This May, Ridiculusmus present the UK premiere of Die! Die! Die! Old People Die!, an absurdly comical play exploring the process of old age, dying and mourning.
The final addition to a trilogy of plays titled Dialogue as the Embodiment of Love, through which the indie theatre duo examine innovative advances toward mental health, the show explores notions surrounding loss, the gradual disappearance of mourning ceremonies and changes in bereavement. The pair’s earlier two plays relate to contemporary matters of psychiatry, psychology and the role played by the global pharmaceutical industry, Big Pharma. The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland tells of the incredible results achieved from new treatments into psychosis, while Give Me Your Love concerns the therapeutic influence of MDMA on post-traumatic stress disorder.
In Die! Die! Die! Old People Die!, writer/director/performers Jon Haynes and David Woods transform into 120-year-olds, portraying a burgeoning love triangle between characters Violet, Norman and Arthur, who are cursed with everlasting life without youth in a world that has forgotten about them.
To gain a better understanding f their production, Haynes and Woods observed palliative care workers and communicated with the Festival of Death and Dying in Melbourne, Australia, along with attending and running death cafés – an innovative safe space for people to talk about death and dying over tea and cakes – as well as exploring their own experiences of grief.
We had a discussion with the pair about their innovative productions, Ridiculusmus’s latest creation and the future of growing old in Britain.
Hi Jon and David, thanks for chatting with us. What first inspired you to create this trilogy of works around mental health?
I think it emerged gradually. There was no grand plan. Initially, though, we were enthralled by a meeting with two family therapists in the Tavistock Centre who told us about Open Dialogue, a treatment approach for psychosis that had apparently almost eradicated the condition in Western Lapland.
How do you think British society has dealt with the elderly and what more can be done to ensure their comfort in later life and the prevention of loneliness that is so prevalent amongst these individuals?
Putting the elderly into a silo process is as ineffective as the over-use of prisons and detention centres. Social inclusion is the antidote to the sort of Hobbesian fear-mongering that our elected representatives are so seduced by. The charms, joys and sheer usefulness of elderhood offer countless possibilities and to remain ignorant or unwelcoming of that is a terrible waste. Our attitude to our elders and integration with them is a picture-perfect reflection of our humanity. Home care, co-living and trusting elders with positions of importance are amongst my wish-list for the territory.
Were the death café sessions well received by attendees? Do you think more work is required to make issues around death and grieving less of a taboo subject and more open to discussion? If so, what kind of measures do you believe can be implemented?
Yes, people find talking about loss extremely therapeutic and socially constructive. The lack of opportunity, though, tends to lead to an over-indulgence sometimes – grief-jacking. The groups need delicate guidance to support the quietest voices and to find a pathway back to life. There is also a danger that the territory is a trade fair for the alternative death industry. Keeping the space un-commercial and infused with generosity is utmost. Ultimately, if we had broader integration of death preparation into our lives we’d get universally better at it. Making estate planning and end of life care planning as centrally supported as bowel cancer tests would spare us a lot of grief.
What is the reaction you expect from older audience members?
Nothing, anything: everything is welcome.
This trilogy of plays take on a range of sensitive topics. Did you have any challenges when creating them and how did you overcome these obstacles?
Yes, we had our own experiences of death and grief. We talked about them at length until we felt a bit better and understood them. We imagined our own death as a company and delved into our pasts, and talked some more, which was therapeutic. And then we carried on talking and doing and now have no fear of sadness, loss or psychosis.
You liaised with the Festival of Death and Dying in Melbourne. Can you tell our readers a little about your experience and your observance on how death is dealt with on the other side of the world?
There is a burgeoning alternative to the death industry that is environmentally sensitive, socially and personally respectful and in increasing demand as we become ever more secular. It’s pretty much the same as in the UK but as with everything non-geographical in Australia – on a small scale.
Where do you find inspiration when producing and writing new material and how do you stay current in the theatre world?
We try to engage with topics that we have a strong connection to, at least as a starting point. If something infuriates us we know we are onto something. So as long as our own existences are diversely engaged within society and deeply engaged with our own communities then it is likely that the things that spark us have some currency.
Were there any distinct audience responses from when you premiered your trilogy in Melbourne?
Horror, laughter, walk-outs, walk-ins, tears and shock.
Where does the future lie for palliative care and retirement homes?
Integrated expansion. If compared to public housing provision, a new development with a mixture of private and public housing that doesn’t denigrate people with poor-doors and light-less cells but rather weaves demographics as intricately and beautifully as possible would be the best way to go. This requires the notion of putting people before profit and understanding that the short-term profiteering is our collective long-term bankruptcy on every level.
What’s next on the horizon for your multi-award-winning theatre company Ridiculusmus?
Like the elderly, we are focusing on achievable and sustainable goals like learning, caring for our souls and bodies and self-producing, but somewhere beneath all that there are rumblings for a new piece that will be as different from the last one as we can make it.
Photo: Bryony Jackson
Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! is at Battersea Arts Centre from 8th May until 25th May 2019. For more information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.