views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Day of the Dead
Rich Mix
1st November 2014


Publicity image for the Day of the Dead

Photography provided by The Crick Crack Club

If you've grown tired of the same Halloween horror fest every year, the Mexican Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) offers a delightful alternative. This jubilant celebration of departed souls takes place on 1st and 2nd November and is a time for music, storytelling, remembering and partying. From picnicking in graveyards to decorating gravestones, both the living and the dead are ready to rave.

The Crick Crack Club runs an annual Day of the Dead event, and I must admit that I wasn't sure what to expect. However, I needn't have worried as this quirky celebration is utterly wonderful, and I was captivated from the minute I walked in the room. Upon entering, the audience are greeted by three life-sized papier-mâché skeletons, who have clearly been revelling for a while. Two males (wearing sombreros of course) enjoy a bottle of wine and a story in the corner, while a beautiful skeleton bride - presumably Day of the Dead quasi-official mascot Catrina - admires her bouquet. In the centre of the stage a large shrine takes pride of place, filled with layers of vibrant flowers, photos of the departed, silver hearts, candles, lace cloths and yet more wine. The set design is very impressive, and it was worth arriving a little early to take it all in. No detail is forgotten, from the smell of incense to the colourful paper skulls fluttering in the room.

The production starts with a brief outline of the Día de Muertos festival, providing the perfect backdrop for an evening of storytelling and music. While the Crick Crack Club's interpretation of the festival isn't strictly Mexican, the Día de Muertos is used as an excuse to dig out some fascinating fairytales and myths from around the world. And ultimately, that's what the festival is all about - celebrating the people and stories of the past. From Irish tales to African fables and Nordic legends, the Crick Crack Club's event is a chance to hear stories that you would never otherwise come across. Among others, the tales included the Viking warrior whose soul was split in two, the Father who was resurrected from the dead, and the cunning Saint who stole fire from Hell. Intrigued? I certainly was.

Publicity image for the Day of the Dead

Photography provided by The Crick Crack Club

The Crick Crack Club promotes a return to good, old-fashioned storytelling. The three yarn-spinners (Clare Muireann Murphy, Tim Ralphs, and TUUP - The Unorthodox, Unprecedented Preacher, otherwise known as Godfrey Duncan) use their powerful voices, expressive facial and body movements and rhythmic sound effects to bring the stories to life. Tense moments are broken up by comical discussions with the audience and sudden humorous outbursts. However, don't go expecting to be a passive observer; this is a return to traditional performance where the audience's participation and reactions help to shape the production. At one point, a throwaway comment from a child and a quick response from the storyteller led to some unscripted comedy gold. The Club warns that no production will be the same twice, as the delivery is about the relationship between the audience and those performing - something we don't see often enough.

Music and sound play an important role too. On entering, the audience are welcomed by some cheery Mexican music, setting the tone for the rest of the event. Then, during the different tales, voices, percussion instruments and a ukulele are used to move the action along. At the end of the first half, Ralphs even sings a slightly gruesome song about worms and death. I'll leave you to imagine the content...

Ritual forms an essential part of the show. During the interval, the audience are invited to write the names of departed friends and relatives. Then, at the start of the second half, the names are placed in a basket under the shrine, so that they too can enjoy the performance. Before actually seeing the show, I was a little sceptical about this element, but they worked really well and made sense in the context. Grandma Elsie, I hope you enjoyed the Crick Crack Club's Day of the Dead. Thankfully (as I was a little nervous beforehand) there are no scary séances. Instead, the rituals are simply to honour the dead and their stories. As the team says, nobody has truly gone when there are those who remember.

The unusual, quirky event blends together different cultures and times in a celebration of both life and death. With intriguing stories, a radiant set design and talented storytellers, it's not surprising that some loyal fans attend year after year. I look forward to seeing what next year's event brings.

The Day of the Dead ran on 1st November 2014 at Rich Mix. The Crick Crack Club regularly run storytelling events at The Soho Theatre, Rich Mix and The Forge.

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