Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! A moth-eaten clown show that, while amusing, has something rather cruel about it. Maggie Kelly reviews:

Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! has the feeling of an era that has long since passed on and become dusty. Very dusty.

As a clown show, it’s maddening – playing with our expectations of humour, speed and time. The first action alone, ‘walking onstage’, takes a grand total of around six minutes to achieve. A clock ticking in the background continually reminds of the seconds slipping away, both for the audience and for Norman (David Woods) and Veronica (Jon Haynes).

Ridiculusmus Summerhall
David Woods & Jon Haynes (image courtesy of Bryony Jackson)

The narrative takes a little while to come creeping out of the woodwork. After both characters finally make it to their assigned chairs, there are some simple skits to whet the appetite. There’s a glorious section involving some pills and a confusion over what weekday it is. An onstage blowjob follows, a wonderful commentary on society’s assumption that elderly people are put out to roost and don’t experience sexual desire past a certain age.

But there’s a cruelty in their portrayal that sits too obviously for points of this sort to be made effectively. Ridiculusmus poke fun at old age, particularly young people’s interpretation of old age. However, they choose to do so in a way that contributes to the stereotypes faced by elderly people instead of undermining them. There’s a fine line between making the audience feel cruel and uncomfortable for laughing, and being cruel and uncomfortable for eliciting that laughter. It’s a line that Woods and Haynes stray too often in Die! Die! Die! Old People Die!.

Ridiculusmus Summerhall
Jon Haynes (image courtesy of Bryony Jackson)

Many of the shock factors and the punchlines feel fractionally underdeveloped, based in the main on things that old people shouldn’t be doing – having sex, swearing, farting in corners.

A character called Arthur appears, the number three in the Norman and Veronica relationship, is exact role in the piece is somewhat unclear, but there’s a hint that it’s a sexual one. It feels like the audience is being encouraged to laugh at the notion that old people might have homosexual or three-way relationships.

Ridiculusmus Summerhall
David Woods (image courtesy of Bryony Jackson)

It’s only when Veronica dies, and Norman is left on his own, that the production takes on another, more nuanced layer. There’s a genuine sense of loss, of grief, of going through all the little logistical things that contribute to erasing a physical presence from the world. It brings in the emotion lacking from earlier in the piece, clarifies the love felt.

Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! is a clown show built on the absence of pace, of the slow stretch of seconds that accompanies ageing. It’s meant to be a marathon, rather than a sprint. But in reality, it’s more like going for a walk with pins and needles in both legs.

★★★☆☆

Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! is now playing at Summerhall until 25 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.