I remember whilst studying our teacher playing us a video of a funeral in the Middle East, which documented reactions from civilians. Most of the civilians were seen screaming and crying. He continued to explain that most people would remain in mourning for 40 days; that attitudes towards mourning were completely juxtaposed compared to the West, how the West paint a ‘celebration’ whilst in the Middle East they ‘accept’ death. There’s an online article by Sami A Hanna who captures this by giving a personal account of her first experience of a Western Funeral in America where she describes the difference from a religious perspective and the traditions that tie in with this. This then led me to think about my own experiences of loss or even the experiences I have seen second-hand to, be that through a friend or through the media, and the difference between our culture and others.
Why is it perceived that Westerners feel the need to put up a guard?
My opinion on this can only stretch as far as personal experience and a reflection upon the culture or environment I have grown up and live in. I’m sure most of you who have grown up in a similar environment will agree with me when I say we are still working towards breaking down the illusion of ‘being strong’ and ‘not letting it get to you’; which has been instilled in us through generations which faced wars and great depressions. The weak fall and the tough survive. But we are changing this, breaking stereotypes and jaded perceptions of ‘strength’. And I believe with this sensitivity and action, it has helped be a catalyst to recognise mental health conditions and pressures put on people in Society.
So has this guard become a product of pressures in society and ancient traditions placed on people? And as we challenge these, will this guard be let down?
Over the past few years statistics have shown that suicides in the UK have decreased over the last three years, with a direct correlation that the action we have put in place to support people with depression, be that from grievous circumstances or medical, are working. And I hope this directly correlates with how society is developing its ability to be more open and let this guard down.
It’s also worth bringing to note the impact of media on our memories and whether this has had any effect on our ability to ‘celebrate’, ‘move past’ or ‘accept’ loss. It’s a lot easier in recent generations to surround ourselves with memories of those that have died, be that through video, image or sound, allowing us to ‘re-live’ these memories whenever we desire. A simple click of a button and you can ‘re-live’ your wedding or your birthday or a night out with friends. Does having this power at our finger tips, make dealing with loss more painful? Or does it make it easier, knowing there is still a piece of them in your grasp?
And it’s this concept which is the crux of Testament; how far you would go to save someone you love? What would you do if these memories suddenly became real again? One moment you are staring into a picture and the next you are in it, living it again. But the truth of the matter is, that what you are seeing is just the materialistic memory, the connection you have made to that image, an apparition.
Within the show we follow a young man called Max who is experiencing this exact situation after suffering trauma to the brain from a failed suicide attempt. He spends the show believing that his girlfriend Tess, (who died in a car accident, involving himself and his brother Chris), is still alive and is met by answers which appear as apparitions of a modernised Jesus and Lucifer who aid Max in his discovery or tempt him away.
It is ultimately an exploration of grief inspired by the above and throughout the play you will see flickers or reflections of most of what I have mentioned. It is a play that looks at how we deal with grief in a situational manner, focusing in on survivors’ guilt from two stand points. It doesn’t answer any of the above questions, nor does it shy away from them, but it aims to question, challenge and provoke on both a philosophical and human level.
I think with a subject matter this personal and heavy you can’t really give an opinion on things or cast a judgement but what I do believe is that it’s important we discuss it openly and support those struggling with it. Everyone deals with this differently and in a way that helps them to overcome it and within Testament that’s what we capture – the ability to ‘overcome it’ and that’s the message I want to send out.
Sam Edmunds is Artistic Director of Chalk Line Theatre and Playwright/Director of Testament.
Presented by Chalk Line Theatre
Bread and Roses Theatre
Part of Clapham Fringe Festival
10 & 11 October 7pm