JOYCE MCMILLAN on LEAVE TO REMAIN at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Netherbow, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 12.5.09
3 stars ***
WHEN IT COMES TO a show like Leave To Remain, the art of reviewing is largely redundant. Created by the playwright Jo Clifford and the actress and writer Suzannne Dance – who both suffered major bereavements, back in 2005 – the show is not so much a performance as a kind of probing, secular service, an act of remembrance for all those we have lost, and whom our society sometimes barely gives us time to mourn.
Over a brief and gentle seventy minutes or so, Clifford and Dance light candles, tell their own stories of loss, read prose and poetry they have found helpful or at least provocative, and – in one breathtaking coup-de-theatre – try to conjure up the altered states of death by leading the audience out through the great doors in the back of the Netherbow stage into the building’s beautiful courtyard garden. Sarah Whiteside plays cello, and there’s a magnificent moment when Clifford reads Federico Garcia Lorca’s great mourning poem for a friend, and Dance reads Clifford’s own wonderful English translation of it.
For the rest – well, the performance style is often raw, not for those who dislike heart-on-sleeve emotion. And whatever else is true about our society’s attitude to death, I think theatre, of all art-forms, is the one that constantly confronts it, rather than ignoring it as Clifford and Dance suggest. Overall, though, there’s something intensely moving and comforting about this brief and beautiful experience, which travels on to St. Andrews next week. And for those thousands of grieving people in our society who have always felt that one brief afternoon’s funeral is too short a goodbye, it opens up the possibility of something richer, and of a slow reinvention of the vital mourning rituals we have lost.