Review: A Wake in Progress, VAULT Festival

For all its funeral-based shenanigans, there’s something warmly, beautifully, life-affirming here in the interactive A Wake in Progress at the VAULT Festival

“When it comes to it, I will be remembered in the most romantic, bullshit way possible…”

This is the story of Henry. Except it won’t be when you see A Wake in Progress, as the finer details of this Fine Mess & Leila Sykes production are improvised every night, using audience suggestions to shape the action and flesh out back stories around a young person diagnosed with a terminal illness and given just months to live.

Joel Samuels’ script sees our protagonist opting to stop treatment and get on with the business of living the life that remains, and some of the more powerful moments here come in the interactions with loved ones and family who can’t comprehend such a choice. There’s also some pretty punchy stuff around the language of death, our tendency towards euphemism instead of facing the truth head on.

As these scenes play out, a narrator dips in and out, asking for answers to seemingly innocuous questions, the details of which are then elegantly wound into the action. It’s interactive theatre at its canniest, gently encouraging participation and then using the material to provide moments of lightness in what is otherwise deeply serious and occasionally, profoundly moving. 

And I have to say A Wake in Progress floored me, I was a weeping mess by the end and it wasn’t just the free prosecco talking. As we move towards the titular wake, held while Henry is still alive, the simple truth of telling someone ‘I love you’ has never shone more vitally, the importance of being open and honest with our loved one thrown into sharp relief. For all its funeral-based shenanigans, there’s something warmly, beautifully, life-affirming here.  

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Ali Ward
A Wake in Progress is booking at the VAULT Festival until 10th February

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