Paupers’ funerals explored in Shoreditch play about death and dying

Abney Park Cemetery where the group did some of their historical research

Abney Park Cemetery where the group did some of their historical research - Credit: Archant

A play named after the unpopular 9am funeral slot - when councils bury those with nobody else to take responsibility - explores the taboo subject of death.

Paupers' graves

Paupers' graves - Credit: Archant

Theatre company ice&fire interviewed those working in the “death industry” – from sociologists, pathologists and nurses at St Joseph’s Hospice, to crematorium workers and undertakers – to create The Nine O’Clock Slot, which starts a run in Shoreditch next week.

The Nine O'clock Slot

The Nine O'clock Slot - Credit: Archant


The group, which focuses on human rights stories through performance, came up with the idea after discovering so-called “paupers’ funerals” – where nobody is around to arrange a burial other than the state – are on the rise in the UK.

Co-writer Annecy Lax explained: “We were puzzled, how is it that in this day and age, people can die alone in a flat and not be discovered for three months? How can someone reach the grand old age of 80 and no one come to their funeral?

“I think we were really interested in the way that the end of life is a marker for the way the person has lived their life, and the trials and tribulations.

“You are talking about people in real extreme circumstances who have just started out as regular people and somewhere down the line small things escalate into big things and you can find yourself destitute or cut off from friends and family.

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“This play is about ‘what if this was you’? What if it was someone you care about? But it’s also about your neighbour or the person begging on the street corner; what’s our responsibility to all of these people?”

After conducting interviews with about 50 people over the space of two years, the group used their verbatim testimony to write the fictional work, which fuses performance, choreography, comedy, song and dance to retrace stories of four people buried in one communal grave.

Ms Lax said: “When we started making it people said, ‘What are you doing? No one will come to a play about death and dying,’ but once you start talking to people about it they can’t stop, they have experiences to share that really matter to them.

“A lot of the thing about death and dying is that we only ever reflect on it in terms of raw grief, so it’s a difficult topic to have out in the open, but this play is something to muse upon and even laugh at from a point of strength rather than a point of sorrow.”

Interesting anecdotes were picked up in their research, and workers at the City of London Crematorium divulged that the biggest people don’t necessarily create the most ashes.

Ms Lax said: “Some little guys might create a big box and other larger people might only fill half a box, some of the people that have worked there the longest can size people up quite accurately as to how many boxes they can fill.”

The company will be the first theatre company to perform at The Red Gallery in Rivington Street from Wednesday March 26 until Thursday April 19.

Tickets cost £15 or £12 concessions.

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