Good grief: death finally got its own festival in the UK last weekend. Since we hate to miss out on under-the-radar activities in London, we sent a spy. Bon viveur Bruce Traynor’s verdict was that Death: Festival for the Living at London’s Southbank Centre was definitely worth writing home about…
London Southbank’s artistic director, Jude Kelly, put it well in the programme for the inaugural Death Festival: ‘It is not about morbidity, sentimentality or sensationalism. It is full of delight and humour. It’s about hearing powerful stories and interesting facts from people who have had to sort out practically and emotionally how to face up to the greatest and most challenging of all certainties. Come and be part of it – we’re all in this together.’
She was dead right. The mood was almost euphoric; there was a buzz. Was this the dawn of a new era of openness? We felt like pioneers. Indeed, this was probably the first event like this in Western history, according to Rosie Inman-Cook at the Natural Death Centre stand, who’d been on BBC breakfast telly saying how funerals can and should be so much better (and cheaper) than what we put up with. Their website immediately got 10,000 hits.
Mexico‘s Day of the Dead celebrations inspired the great logo for the Death Festival, and it was subtitled the Festival for the Living. It seems there’s a groundswell to break free from the sombre Victorian attitudes that we’re still lumbered with. The festival sold out quickly. Another sign of the times is British company Crazy Coffins, who make caskets as uplifting, personalised and elaborate as the famous Ghanaian coffins. Exhibitions of both were delighting the crowds at the weekend.