A Wake in Progress at the VAULT Festival: ‘a poignant reminder of what theatre can be and do for a community’

Rex Harrison reviews A Wake In Progress, which tells the story the coming death of a young woman close to them who wants to have a dress rehearsal of her funeral.

Interactive and partially improvised, this play is a poignant reminder of what theatre can be and do for a community. Interactive theatre can be a tough sell at the best of times. There’s something anxiety inducing for many theatregoers about being picked on during live performances. Especially when the subject matter is loss. Making this work requires a particular kind of artistry. But a thoughtful mix of compassion and creativity is what drives this piece and really sets it aside from the rest.

Firstly, the piece is cleverly designed to be progressed by the audience. Members of the audience are invited to contribute to the naming of characters and even some of the things they talk about. Often the results are pretty hilarious. 

The entire cast gave generous performances, improvising beautifully around and beyond the limitations of the space and format. The company showed true resourcefulness with their imaginative set design, delightful exploration of script and talent for improvisation, which culminated in a touching and often comical story about a young woman and those close to her facing up to the realities of life and its inevitable curtain call.

The piece was carried by its narrator, a role filled by Amy Flemming, who regularly pauses the story to invite us to get involved in the piece. Such interactions are always wittily disguised as seemingly tangential side-tracks which end up making sense eventually, a simple but effective touch. 

There is often a certain degree of tentativeness to interactive theatre, and even in this show there was a slight air apprehension from the cast at the start, presumably as they gauged the crowd. This subtle awkwardness was alleviated very professionally by Flemming with her formidable showmanship. 

Amy Fleming in A Wake in Progress.

On the surface this is a fun and creative piece of theatre, but it’s also a lot more than that.  It is a perfect piece for touring communities and getting people to engage in a very real conversation about death while also being an amusing new take on a timeless theatrical approach.

I’d even hazard to say that the piece could have been longer. Despite the artful flow of the storytelling, in many ways I felt as though it was over to soon. We have a wonderful opportunity to not only meet but help contribute to the lives of these very vivid stage characters. I would certainly have come along for a longer journey with them. Perhaps there’s some deeper point there, but I would still have liked to have got to know everybody a little better.

A Wake in Progress was a warm reminder that some things in life will always catch you off guard. In conjunction with NHS community project Let’s Talk, this moving work is part of a broader conversation helping to ease some of the pain around addressing the subject of dying. 

Despite some strong language the piece is very accessible to everybody and anybody who might need it. It was confidently delivered, creative, entertaining and sensitive.   

4/5

A Wake in Progress was at the Vault Festival between the 6th and 10th February, 2019. 

Photograph credit: Ali Ward.


Rex is studying for a BA in English and Drama at Goldsmiths. He is especially interested in new political writing, theatre directing and contemporary French and German theatre.

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