How you handle death really depends on your age, or, more accurately, how many funerals you have attended.
Pauline Goldsmith handles death very well indeed. Bright Colours Only, written and performed by Goldsmith, is a series of sketches and short monologues that cover different aspects of death – from the peacock feathers that mustn’t be in the house to a young woman lying in a coffin declaring that it’s not her time yet.
It’s daring and dark and desperately funny.
The show opens with the audience standing on a stage cluttered with furniture and being greeted by Pauline as the over-attentive hostess of a wake, proffering sandwiches and biscuits and cups of tea and tots of whiskey. An alarming presence on stage is a real, life-size coffin.
Switching to the role of unctuous undertaker/saleswoman we are beckoned forward to inspect the lidless coffin up close; its white silky interior, its brass-effect handles. This is probably the closest most people in the audience have ever come to a coffin and it’s a little unnerving.
We are inducted into the mysteries of embalming and the importance of moisturising (embalming methods take their toll on the skin “not to mention death itself,” says Goldsmith). And when it comes to make-up “you don’t want the face to look too healthy. And do remember to blend!”
When she produces the standard issue shroud in white satin with detachable arms (for ease of dressing) it looks for all the world like something from the KKK.
Goldsmith is from Northern Ireland where they do wakes rather well. “It’s a shame it takes something like this (a death) to get us all together," says the ever-fussing hostess. And no matter how often she says “just relax" it’s impossible to do so.
Like a demented bumblebee she flits back and forth. Reminiscences of her late auntie Annie “who loved God, Our Lady and Eamon Holmes” are touching and well observed. The one-liners, ad-libs and non-sequiturs come thick and fast. “She fell for her cousin but the family was against it and so was the Pope."
There’s a moving prose poem encompassing the death experiences of a lifetime from deceased pet gerbils to the ambulance man ominously "telling me to make my mammy a cup of tea.” And there’s the story of the cry of the banshee who heralds a death and sounds just like a whistling kettle.
It’s all performed with heartfelt gusto: funny and human in a way that makes you think seriously about mortality.
At the end the audience follows the coffin out into the Summerhall courtyard where the venue’s Festival of Death/Halloween young revellers in fancy dress and zombie face paint must get quite a shock.
Until 29 October 2016, 7.30pm