The Covid Requiem – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Written & Performed by Jo Clifford and Lesley Orr

Directed by Amy Liptrott

Rating: 3 out of 5.

When is the right time to talk about Covid? How, or even should we reflect during an ongoing pandemic? When are we able to talk and share the experiences and stories of those who struggled, those who did not make it? If we do not share the lives of our loved ones now, then are they to be ashes cast to the winds, statistics for political gains – or is now the time to forge an autonomy and sense of self for the hundreds of thousands who have tragically lost their lives in the past months.

In recounting the lives of some of the many lost over the previous 20 months, Jo Clifford and Lesley Orr share a reading of their newest piece: The Covid Requiem. Which infuses spoken word elements with accounts of frontline workers, dairy farmers, shop owners and the various faces and souls of Scotland – told through promenade, visitors are invited on meditative journey across the Pitlochry back garden as we share the journey of grieving together, undergoing our own emotional transgressions, and embracing what we have lost.

Marching through the Pitlochry landscape, admiring the various gardens and fauna adorning the hardening summer air, there is an undoubted presence of something unique and ritualistic. The Covid Requiem is not a show or entertainment but akin to an encounter, a tribute and sharing of stories and revelling in the tenderness of words. In essence, this makes it as close to the raw, authentic performance and integrity as contemporary writers can achieve.

Trailing behind the musicians Innes Watson and Patsy Reid (filling in for Duncan Chisholm), violins leading the way, swirling in and around the various landmarks of the Theatre’s Garden, we are, without much room for symbolism, the ritual providers, the coffin bearers and the mourners for those who were unable to say goodbye. It’s solemn, respectful and touching. Orr and Clifford emanate a softness, however, to aid in the difficulty of the journey, the sombre composition is still elegant enough to touch listeners.

But gradually, the score lifts, not to what could be described as jovial or cheerful but achieves a nuanced appreciation of solace or community and does indeed lift the spirits as those making the journey enter their final sequence of the spoken word.

And perhaps here, more than anywhere else, the individualism of each person attending will take heart. Those who have been directly impacted by Covid will understand the words and connect with the poetry and imagery with a keenness within the script. No less powerful, the impact and what individuals may take away from the experience will differ. And this is sensed within Orr and Clifford’s writing, a sense of detachment to enable those who desire to place their loved ones into the tales or the personal physical movements we are encouraged to share to embolden our grief, joy and potential ability to let go.

And regardless of sentiment and tenderness, the direction has patches of unease, under-rehearsed. And yet, this elevates The Covid Requiem into a unique reflection, where precision is not the ideal format, but a connection is. Of the honesty and quips from Orr or Clifford about politicians and tough decisions, it traverses space and brings a sliver of comfort to those present.

Upon ending next to the Cairn, silence follows; a respectful, mournful but appreciative silence. And though the technique of storytelling and cultural foundations of tradition are intimate and well-conceived, the lack of initial applause is precisely the accurate response.

The Covid Requiem is the beginning of a process. A process not solely of grief but of the way forward. Not back to the way things were, but how we move forward and share one another’s stories. How we hold accountability and listen to the fires within when cronyism and hypocrisy run rampant – but perhaps most of all, above all else, we honour the time we have, the stories we share, and take a step back and appreciate the practises and customs we once had for the deceased.

The Covid Requiem runs at The Pitlochry Festival Theatre until Saturday 18th. Tickets can be found here.

Photo Credit – Rhys Watson

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