Battersea Arts Centre, London – under 25 May 2019
Ridiculusmus – Jon Haynes and David Woods – have been crafting increasingly perfect pieces of theatre, based on impressive and sometimes unlikely research, for many years. Their new piece is the final instalment of a trilogy that has tackled innovative treatments for schizophrenia (The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland), MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder (Give Me Your Love) and now old age in the provocatively titled Die! Die! Die! Old People Die!
The new show takes a different approach, concerned with ageing and grief rather than mental disorder. A show “in honour of our elders” might sound worthy but the pair delivers an astonishing show. They walk an inspired, unhinged tightrope between deep poignancy and riotous absurd comedy that leaves the audience at times incapacitated with laughter.
Haynes and Woods, having worked with various groups of elders to develop the show, have responded with pure physical comedy. The opening scene, with a ludicrously creaky old couple making their way inch by inch to the middle of the stage, is a piece of genius.
During their journey, which take a very long time indeed, the viewer is at first convulsed with laughter, then struck by guilt at laughing over others’ physical limits, then visited by memories of older relatives ground to a halt by arthritis. It is both remarkably funny, and unexpectedly painful. This sets the tone for the show in which Haynes and Woods use their exceptional skills to recreate the constantly recognisable physical traits of the elderly, and to tip them into convulsive humour.
The pair references classic comedy throughout, not least during a remarkable scene inspired by ‘Dinner for One’ with Woods bringing his wife (Haynes) a cup of coffee and attempting to lay a table cloth. The scene is performed in fast forward, and is both highly impressive and hopelessly funny. Woods even pulls off the ‘looking at a watch while holding a glass of water’ gag, using its perfect simplicity to round off a pill-taking routine which has the audience beside themselves. There are surely no better technical comedians working right now.
Yet the value of ‘Die! Die! Die!…’ is the way it effortlessly harnesses the farce constantly bubbling beneath ordinary life to a searching exploration of the meaning of age, and of love. Haynes plays a woman and a man, with equal brilliance, at the end of life-long relationships to Woods’s character and the power of these links is made entirely clear without a moment of sentimentality. Ridiculusmus are at the top of their game and ‘Die! Die! Die!…’ complete with fart jokes, is an absolute must-see for anyone who wants to be awed by what two men on a small stage can achieve.