“Nothing says grief play like a florescent badge”, a Sparks crew member hands me a bright pink one that screams “I AM ELECTRIC” on the way out. Sparks is a play about grief, but with a focus on life and not death and a bubbly (sometimes baroque) soundtrack, it’s grief done a little differently.
grief, done a little differently.
To get to grief there must first inevitably be death. It’s a fertile topic across the arts, and at the Fringe. As nobody likes to talk about it, consequently, naturally, we absolutely should. This year there is even a dedicated website and a hashtag, #DeathAtTheFringe. It’s run by Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief, who are working to make Scotland a place where there is more openness about death, dying and bereavement. So many struggle soundlessly, not knowing who to or how to get help.
What Sparks manages to do instead of focussing on the death itself, is highlight the loneliness that comes afterwards in a quietly devastating way. There’s no dramatic funeral scene, no black umbrellas, no tender loving goodbyes, just a dial tone late in the night, a wordless call to a phone that can no longer be connected. Meanwhile, they are not going to let us forget that life goes on.
The poetry of the everyday is brought to loud and illustrious life through a beautiful soundtrack, which interweaves the duo performances. Anoushka Lucas plays the keys and sings, Jessica Butcher speaks – but they are the same person. I am yet to see two performers so intensely connected, so creatively in-synch; their concentration is mesmerising to watch and there is a evidently a very real, close bond between them.
Their concentration is mesmerising to watch
Jessica embraces the mornings, not haunted by lonely dials tones, in “Morning Comes Around”, a bright and sparky song punctuated with life’s big questions: “Can I put this jumper in the washing machine?”, amongst others. A new love is on the horizon, and the script toys with our expectations of this, leaning in to the fantasies and then batting them away to our comic satisfaction. Sparks brings to light the cruel truth, that grief rears its head at the most inconvenient of times, and as the sparks of new love flicker, Jess is reminded of altogether different sparks. The sparks in her mother’s head that saw her fizzle out.
The structure of the piece is expertly controlled so that it rises and falls but remains hopeful. Sparks is about finding ground, when its fallen away from beneath your feet. About focussing on the little things, like a blade of grass, taking the time for a bath. About finding your own answers to your questions and moving forward. About remembering you’re alive, you’re electric, that morning comes around.
Aug 21-26, Pleasance Beneath, 11:30am, Run time:60 minutes.