"Boarding now for existential reflection"
by Peter Carrington for remotegoat on 06/02/15

If you enjoy challenging, engaging promenade performances which make you reflect during the performance and after then you may enjoy taking the next available train to A First Class Death.

This exploration of the subject of death is framed by the grand re-opening of the London Necropolis railway. The audience goes on a guided tour of the surrounding area, where the fascinating history of the real railway is explained. They learn that the railway was first opened in 1854 to transport the dead and mourners to funerals at Brookwood cemetery in Surrey and how it came to be and close. During the tour however, the audience gets the feeling that not everything is as it seems.

Following the tour the audience enter the dank and cavernous Vaults beneath the railway lines of Waterloo station. Audience members then take part in various activities designed to make them consider aspects of death, funerals and their legacy. The Vaults ‘cavern’ space, providing a subterranean feel is ideal for this kind of contemplation, complemented well by the lighting and sound design. As the trains rumbled overhead like a giant heartbeat the production climaxes with a poignant and melancholic finale.

If all this sounds morbid or depressing, it isn't, but it does challenge the audience to consider morbid subjects. Subjects such as inheritance and power of attorney are actually handled in a very gentle and upbeat way by the cast and the experience I had was actually very funny (but then I enjoy gallows humour). Observing fellow audience members engage in the activities is fascinating as one sees attitudes and opinions that are not often discussed openly or one might learn things about those people who you came with that you never knew. It can also be an opportunity for reflection about one’s own mortality and legacy.

Given the macabre subject and the need to create an air of mystery about the show, some aspects of the production built suspense and as a result, there was an air of tension throughout which was never released. This could prevent audience members from feeling comfortable enough to engage and is clearly unintentional as Jason Hall’s aim is to provide an uplifting, existential experience for the audience which I feel certain some audience members felt.

As is often the case with promenade performances, the cast want engagement and the more the audience goes with it, the more likely they are to get something out of it. The cast are well briefed, each having a strong character to interact with and welcoming it. Having said that, when tackling such a sensitive subject all individual audience members have different thresholds of engagement or bounds of taste so Baseless fabric have tried to balance these sensitive feelings and for the most part they succeeded.

So get a ticket, take the train if you are prepared to engage, learn some fascinating history and be challenged to genuinely reflect upon (and laugh about) your own mortality.

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