Death Actually

Death Actually was our first project, presented over two nights at the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival in June 2014. It combined social issues, such as the way our modern society approaches death (from overcrowded morgues to profiteering on funeral costs to an anodised brush-it-under-the-carpet perfectionism) with cutting edge world premieres. We orchestrated Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin and performed it with a puppet; we staged the Bach Motets with a stunning group of singers; and we celebrated a ‘wake’ with Bjarte Eike’s Alehouse Boys. We preceded the entire evening with a Death Cafe, which encouraged people to talk about their own mortality and experiences of death and grief. The Times called the evening “astonishing… over three hours of exuberant musicianship… irresistible”, and the Evening Standard found it “winningly intense”. But don’t listen to the critics! See below for a selection of our audience reactions.

Then in 2015, with Arts Council England funding, we took the project out into the community. We renamed it Real Life Actually, worked in schools, with amateur choirs, and in retirement homes, and then presented a free concert in the Asylum Chapel in Peckham.

Finally in 2016, we distilled the project into the form of an installation that played throughout the Brighton Festival.

Death Actually audience reaction:

  • thank you for Death Actually! One of the most amazing shows I’ve ever been to
  • a life-enhancing heart-filling joy actually
  • wonderful – a brilliant, brilliant project – exactly the kind I adore
  • so brilliant last night, when is the next performance?
  • thoroughly enjoyed it. Beautiful arrangements and inspiring staging!
  • stunning – totally wonderful music and drama – brimming full of life
  • still reeling with excitement after death actually yesterday. Simply phenomenal
  • goes in my top 20 of all time – just magical.
  • Die schöne Müllerin breathtaking and then joyful, heart-stopping Bach. V happy!
  • a plea to you all, please go and see Death Actually. We were speechless – absolutely stunning.
  • one of my best night’s out in London. Really inspiring, all of it, and so much fun
  • gorgeous and magical and heartbreaking – a triumph.
  • so good in so many ways
  • thank you so much for the music last night! I was really entranced by it all and full of admiration. A truly memorable evening. The motets in particular were superb – especially the two basses singing in such synchronicity and pitch. Remarkable. As for the baroque pub crawl – well, that is surely how it was in the Lamb and Flag in Rose Street 250 years ago!
  • breathless with admiration. Three concerts, not one (oh fool!). Sublime Schubert. And then the ecstasy of Lutheran belief unpeeled before us, emerging out of the melee of ‘common music’ – crystal clear, miraculous compositions, triggering every emotion in the world (most of them underused) – and thoughts in my mind about faith in our own time. And then the exuberance of the wake, with the marvellous company of men around you and again, that strong sense of historic time and place (and of traditions of music-making carried through generations)… What a night. What a band of musicians
  • really great concert
  • it was moving, engaging, innovative – music making at its best and great fun too
  • a brilliant concept, full of humanity and integrity
  • sublime Schubert, exceptional guitar playing
  • engaging and talented musicians giving everything, and mesmerising puppetry. Perfect acoustic for this project, and all combining for an evening to stay in the memory bank. Thank you – more please.

Real Life Actually Installation audience reaction:

  • more meaning to my present life than I could ever describe in words here. Wonderful!
  • the initial “darker” lit element allows the viewer to fix themselves in the space (and what a space) – the later “lit” portion of the experience is so uplifting. I imagined myself moving in space. Having just lost my son, I cannot thank you enough for this experience
  • it was perfect
  • it’s good to be reminded that death is universal and that everything living will die at some time. It’s easy to think of one’s own death as singular, special and uniquely tragic – in a way of course it is, but the installation widened the feeling out to encompass us all.
  • extended my perspective on the inevitability of death and the continuation of life and the fact that we are all in it together
  • embraced totally by the music. The darkness of the enclosure was wonderful for focusing the mind and spirit. As a solo experience, to me it was deep and meaningful.
  • as an octogenarian, fit but well aware of my mortality – saying farewell to many of my contemporaries at their funerals – I did not expect joyfulness amid the bittersweet music 
  • love the placement of this installation in church – a place of many funerals.
  • comfort and hope. I think the film picked up on this dual aspect.
  • there is probably not enough conversation or discussion about death. Art gives an opportunity for people to approach this subject from a different angle. I found the film very moving – a beautiful articulation of the interplay between death, life and music.
  • I think it was quite a journey. Quite opaque to begin with but interesting, compelling and humane. Drew me in.
  • bold/radical in its simplicity, intimacy and informality
  • amazed, once again, by the power of the human voice, individually and together, to pull out feelings and inspire imagination
  • a real pleasure
  • great singing, great voices
  • bare sparseness gave a sense of mystery and raised aniticipation
  • thought and feeling provoking
  • creative, moving, a beautiful expression of death