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Death comes to life at the Southbank Centre

Death comes to life at the Southbank Centre

Names and items as diverse as Sandy Toksvig, Jon Snow, Julian Lloyd Webber, The BBC Concert Orchestra, gamelan music, AC:DC and a cocoa bean-shaped coffin will be part of a four-day extravaganza at London’s Southbank Centre for Death: Southbank Centre’s Festival for the Living.

From January 27 to 30, the Southbank Centre will be playing host to free and ticketed talks, music, performances and installations that air different approaches and attitudes to death. There will even be a takeaway poetry kiosk.

Organisers promise respectful and irreverent contributions from philosophers, artists, scientists, medical practitioners, psychiatrists, theologians, anthropologists and broadcasters, as well as funeral directors.

“There is much about our common humanity that we acknowledge, share and celebrate, so why are we so reluctant to face up to the very thing that, in the end, unites us all?” said Jude Kelly, the Southbank Centre’s artistic director.

“In the way that a fitting memorial can be revelatory, or the presence of humour in a well-observed wake can lighten the load, we hope that our new festival can begin to allow some light onto a subject too often consigned to the shadows.”
The BBC Concert Orchestra’s Music to Die For will include extracts from Faure, Verdi, Mozart and Mahler, John Tavener’s Song for Athene, which was performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, Barber’s Adagio and Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre.

Other musical attractions the Elysian singers, New Orleans trumpeter and vocalist Abram Wilson, folk-noir band Dead Man’s Waltz and Petra Jean Phillipson. Radio presenter Paul Gambaccini will chat to guests and play the nation’s favourite funeral tunes in Desert Island Death Discs, from AC:DC’s Highway to Hell to Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side.

Drma includes An Instinct for Kindness – the emotional story of MS sufferer Allyson’s assisted suicide – and Goodbye Mr Muffin, which introduces children to the idea of death through the tale of a guinea pig’s last days. The Feral Theatre Company will mix puppetry and gamelan music to commemorate an extinct species in Remembering the Javanese Tiger.

Poetry and comedy
Writer and broadcaster Sandi Toksvig delivers a lecture, comedian Markus Birdman gives a humorous account of suffering a stroke at 40 and poet Simon Barraclough leads a workshop on writing poetry in response to grief. Staff of The Saison Poetry Library will help people find poems on specific feelings of loss, while, throughout the festival, ‘poetry chefs’ will be writing made-to-order poems about death from the Poetry Takeaway kiosk.

Talks and information
The Natural Death Centre is running salons, while in Everything you wanted to know about funerals but were too afraid to ask, representatives from Dead Good Guides advise on how best to arrange a funeral. Around the world in 20 death rituals offers a global snapshot of funeral rites – from Tibetan sky burials to dancing with the dead rituals in Madagascar.

Broadcaster Jon Snow chairs a discussion on assisted dying, while in In Survival – The Close Call, a bomb disposal expert reveals what it’s like to dice with death daily and those who escaped from the 1989 Marchioness disaster explain the guilt and joy of survival. There is also a series of 15-minute Death ‘Bites’ talks from experts.

Boxed: a display of Fabulous Coffins from the famous Pa Joe workshop in Ghana and Crazy Coffins from Vic Fearns & Co Nottingham feature unique designs. Meanwhile, and 29 January, the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall will host a giant participatory Before I die... chalkboard, encouraging people to share their dreams .

For tickets and information about venues, dates and times, please visit the
Southbank Centre Ticket Office – /  0844 847 9910

Photo: Jack Bell Gallery

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