Fledgling Theatre Company return, following the success of They Built It. No One Came., with their new play Celebrate (written by company co-director Callum Cameron). Sponsored by the Institute of Professional Celebrants, the play introduces us to Howard; until now, he’s never really had what you’d call a true calling in life, but ever since Trevor’s mum’s funeral he’s known – and now he is a fully qualified funeral celebrant.
But that’s not enough for Howard. Yes, job satisfaction is incredibly important and t he money comes in handy (£94 after tax for each ceremony), but now he’s determined to beat Bryn Jones and be the go-to funeral celebrant. Despite his clumsiness, dishevelled appearance and lack of a website, he’s doing pretty well for himself – and finally feels like he’s doing something that matters. It becomes clear, however, that there’s something else going on with Howard, and it takes an overly close-to-home Irish funeral to bring it to the surface again…
Celebrate is a one-man show that really does stand out from the rest. Prior to this play I’d never even heard the term ‘celebrant’, let alone what they do (I’m sure I’m not alone here), so it’s a bit of an eye-opener in that sense – and with Howard specialising in funerals, that obviously opens up a wealth of darkly humorous material. The way he treats his ceremonial role as if he’s in the entertainment industry is particularly rich, as is his professional rivalry with Bryn Jones; this overflowing of zany humour in no way prepares you for the poignancy of the latter part of the play. It only takes a little moment but, like Pandora’s box, once the lid is off then gradually the whole story comes flooding out.
Brian Tynan brings an incredible energy to his performance as Howard; it appears his bid to distract himself from what brought him into his current situation extends to keeping himself busy in any way possible. That’s not to say that he’s a constant fidget; there’s an almost relaxing quality to his attempts to get every last drop out of a Capri Sun pouch – plus it’s a great example of some of the play’s visual gags. Tynan has great comic timing, as well as the ability to get the audience hanging on his every word as things start to get serious.
Rachel Sampley’s lighting design also comes into play here: for the most part the performance space is well lit, but exactly as Howard starts baring his soul it all homes in on him until he’s bathed in a bright spotlight. Sophia Parson’s set design is simple yet effective, providing great practicality and support for storytelling – with just enough room for some surreal twists to be incorporated.
“You must celebrate what remains.”
My verdict? An outstanding one-man show that looks at a different side of grief and how we say goodbye to lost loved ones – its dark, zany humour is coupled expertly with an unexpected poignancy.
Celebrate runs at the VAULT Festival until 24 February 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.