by Lara Thoms and Scott Turnbull
Photographer Daniel Boud
The Studio, Sydney Opera House
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
Is it a play? Is it a lecture? Are the two performers actors or funeral directors? Are we all potential recruits? There seems to be a very fine line, especially considering that the characters’ names are the same as the performers’ names.
As we settle into our seats in The Studio, we stare at the shirtless body of a man lying on the trolley and look for signs of breathing. There are none. A women leaves her seat in the front row and takes her time to complete dressing the corpse in a shirt, tie and jacket.
When she finishes, the man sits up and gives her a critique of her corpse-dressing skill. It turns out to be a teacher/student relationship in the morgue of a funeral parlour. With unshakeable authority and certainty, Scott instructs Lara on some of the subtleties of the funeral business and reveals information that anyone outside the industry wouldn’t know. It covers every aspect from the flowers to the range of coffins, to the celebrants, to the cremation procedures, to the intricacies of quoting, taking the clients through the sales process and instruction on how to deal with the more difficult ones.
Scott’s coffin selling style is similar to that of a new car salesman, and the models are even named after motor vehicles such as The Statesman.
The fourth wall is broken from the start when Lara addresses the audience, and it’s later expanded when questions are invited. Some of the unscripted questions come from people who clearly have familiarity with the industry. Irrespective of the complexity of the questions, Scott immediately answers with certainty, great detail and humour. He seems to possess undoubted knowledge and experience that’s way beyond that of a skilled improvisational actor.
It’s later revealed that Scott is actually a former Tasmanian funeral director who is an excellent communicator. He uses words and we see pictures.
It’s like a modern, theatrical version of The Loved One, the 1948 book by Evelyn Waugh.
As part of the Festival UnWrapped section of the Sydney Comedy Festival, The Director is the creation of artist Lara Thoms and Scott Turnbull and is one of the most unusual, compelling, fascinating, engaging and entertaining productions in the past couple of years.
It closes soon, so you’ll need to book ASAP.