A Lively Funeral: The Three Deaths of Ebony Black

4 stars

For a show purporting to be about death, The Three Deaths of Ebony Black is abundant with life. You'd be forgiven for believing that you're watching an ensemble cast.

Instead, Amberly Cull and Nick Pages-Oliver take what are, by and large, quite minimalist marotte-style puppets and imbue them with personality through subtly nuanced control and outrageous voice acting.

Image courtesy of Minh Phat

Image courtesy of Minh Phat

Bunraku theatre comes to mind at the sight of black clad puppeteers, but it’s apparent from the outset that they’re in no way intended to fade into the background or be consciously ignored. Quite the opposite, in fact, as what details are lacking on the puppets themselves are supplemented by the movements and facial expressions of the performers.

Whilst the characters in this performance are ludicrously exaggerated depictions, they are well-developed and have understandable motivations. Recurring musical themes and individual quirks help the audience to immediately place the hinge-jawed players in the story.

The Three Deaths of Ebony Black is an ambitious narrative in and of itself. Set almost entirely within the bottle of a single building on a single day, the piece conveys the messy complexity of challenging times. A few musical numbers and repetitive devices serve structurally to carry the story along, and transport the audience along with it.

Image courtesy of Minh Phat

Image courtesy of Minh Phat

Although there were a few stumbles along the way, they did not detract or threaten to derail the impressive momentum of the show or its chaotic nature. There was, however, a minor element of audience participation that didn’t mesh well with the impressive pace, nor did it really add anything of significance to the narrative.

Still, this is a touching, hilarious and engaging story, and one that may belie the audience’s expectations of the art form. It’s clear that the performers have a deep appreciation for both their audience and their craft, which serves to enrich the experience.

As we follow the conflicts of this group of intertwined characters, we come to understand them through their response to the death of the titular character.

We end on a sobering scene which, along with the touching introduction, bookend a tale that demonstrates how one death can be the beginning of so much for so many.

Tickets available from the FRINGE WORLD website.