From Friday 27th – Monday 30th January, the Southbank Centre is hosting an unusual event: four days of talks, music, performance and poetry that gently lift the lid on the subject of death.
Indeed no coffin lid will be left unturned. Both respectful and irreverent, practical and philosophical, the festival aims to get people not only talking about the Grim Reaper, but asking his shoe size. An array of scientists, undertakers, musicians, theologians, anthropologists, artists, poets and broadcasters are coming along to help.
The many highlights include:
BBC Concert Orchestra's 'Music to Die For'
Paul Gambaccini's 'Desert Island Death Discs'
Sandi Toksvig Memorial Lecture
Jon Snow's panel discussion on Assisted Dying
Petra Jean Phillipson performs from 'Notes on Death'
The Dead Man's waltz: folk-music from the Isle of Skye
Ken Russell's documentary 'Song of Summer': on Delius' final years
Get a free poem about death from 'The Poetry Takeaway', or browse the free exhibition of bespoke coffins. For a £12 day pass you can attend, among other things, poet Christopher Reid's 'A Scattering' Megan O'Rouke reading from her memoir 'The Long Goodbye', and the Q and A session: 'Everything you wanted to know about funerals but were afraid to ask'. Simon Barraclough is running a workshop on writing poetry about grief, followed by a reading by the participants. Even children are not forgotten. 'Goodbye Mr Muffin' is an award winning play about the death of a loved guinea pig, for children aged 6 +
Does this seem like a strange event to you? Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, writes:
“There is so much about our common humanity that we acknowledge, share and celebrate, so why are we so reluctant to face up to the very thing that, in the end, unites us all? In the way that a fitting memorial can be revelatory, or the presence of humour in a well-observed wake can lighten the load, we hope that our new festival can begin to allow some light onto a subject too often consigned to the shadows.'
Jon Snow says of the festival:
“The thrill of a whole weekend talking about nothing but death seemed to me like magic.”
Can it be thrilling to talk of death? What will people's choice of funeral music and bespoke coffins tell us about their lives, and about our society? What will people write on Candy Chang's participatory art piece ' Before I die...'? And how will the balance fall between solemnity and irreverence, glibness and profundity? If you dare to find out, come along to the Southbank.