“I Wish To Die Singing” from the Finborough Theatre

The November online offering from Neil McPherson’s venue is his own piece about the Armenian Genocide. With the help of director Tommo Fowler, the theatre becomes a classroom and a place of campaigning as the audience is given a history lesson and left with a call to action.

The past first. McPherson’s use of eyewitness reports to events in Turkey in 1915 is skilled, showing just enough of life before the atrocities. Suggesting a flavour of the rich Armenian culture, the voices of children are balanced with those of adult survivors looking back.

The best deliveries come from Bevan Celestine, Tamar Karabetyan and Kate Binchy (especially strong as a missionary) who each bring a tear to the eye more than once. It should be stressed that much of what we hear is stomach-churning. Quite rightly, McPherson does not shy away from detailing the swift, sudden massacres or the “hopeless exile” of a “relocation” Armenians were forced to make – walking into the desert to their deaths.

McPherson and Fowler understand context is especially important when dealing with a subject matter less well known than it should be. Their solution is highly effective: the whole show is led by Jilly Bond, who plays an approachable narrator capably filling in details.

As for the history, I Wish To Die Singing aims to be more than a lecture in a theatre. Debate about the definition of a genocide leads to roll call of countries that recognise what happened and those that refute facts. Adding commentary up to the date of recording, including insulting tweets the theatre received, brings an immediacy to the show that can still be sensed.

Until 31 December 2020

www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Photo by Doug Mackie

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