Gareth Smith reviews Kill Me Now, the story of an undertaker’s “end-of-life celebration” funeral business experienced via a Zoom webinar, live-streamed directly from the Edinburgh Fringe.
Kill Me Now, which is both a sly satire of the ‘grieving industry’ and a tragicomic monologue, is a rarity in being a Zoom call actually worth attending. In the form of a webinar from Joyful Endings Funeral Services, relentlessly enthusiastic ‘third generation undertaker’ Anna Morgan-Jones (Mali Tudno Jones) attempts to recruit new franchisees for her end-of-life empire. Writer Rhiannon Boyle lampoons the worst of entrepreneurial blathering, including incessant jargon, nonsensical PowerPoint graphics and the feigned investment in a sense of ‘wellbeing’ for employees and customers. Despite her vacuous slogans (“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone!”) and commitment to professionalism, Anna’s business pitch conceals something darker behind its death-positive approach.
As the audience are shown images of personalised caskets and asked for their chosen funeral song numerous hints are dropped (often making use of the online format) to suggest that the host is holding something back. By incorporating the worst elements of meeting platforms (screenshare mishaps, interrupting phone calls and embarrassing unmutings), Kill Me Now uses them to great effect within the narrative. While dramas filmed on or about Zoom already feel a little exhausted, this is a playful engagement with such fatigue rather than an example of it. Even the requisite ‘comfort break’ moves the story along, providing the first unguarded view of Anna’s personal life.
The role that the chat function plays in the drama is especially creative; a space which is often reserved solely for inane comments instead offers interaction, improvisation and greater insight into Anna’s backstory. By sending up the format so effectively even accidental issues – like a dodgy Wi-Fi connection – can blend helpfully into the show’s aesthetic.
The narrative follows Anna’s gradual unravelling from a funereal version of a QVC presenter into a full embracing of the messy emotions that bereavement, and her subsequent rebranding of her funeral home, caused. This owes as much to performance as it does to Boyle’s writing; Jones avoids overplaying the humorous moments so that the eventual revelations are not absurd in comparison. The comedic highlight might be Anna’s recollection of a Midsomer Murders themed funeral featuring a Bergerac lookalike, but there are plenty of unintentionally laughable remarks to choose from. This levity isn’t simply there for its own sake, in order to mock the ludicrous aspects of the undertaking profession, but as a means of exploring the purpose served by the various rituals observed following the death of a loved one. At the play’s conclusion, Anna asks her silent audience “I guess this is grief, right?”, demonstrating a so-called “expert” admitting defeat. Despite the webinar’s promises, she is as lost as the rest of us.
As a quirky, creative piece of drama (“thinking outside the coffin” as Anna puts it), Kill Me Now is a great showcase both for Dirty Protest Theatre and the Welsh presence at the in-person and virtual Fringe.
Kill Me Now is showing live at the Edinburgh Fringe and via livestream until 21st August.