Scottish playwright Jo Clifford and historian and academic Lesley Orr premiere The Covid Requiem, their beautiful and poignant new promenade production, commissioned by Pitlochry Festival Theatre, that will see a ritual devised to mourn and celebrate the lives and stories of those lost in the pandemic over the last 18 months. The theatre production will be one of the first to deal with the pandemic.
Performed in Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s beautiful gardens and amphitheatre, The Covid Requiem will not only encompass the collective experience of these times, but it will also allow audience members to bring the names of their loved ones with them so that they can be read aloud and commemorated by the audience, and finally help them on the massive journey they face to make sense of what has happened, together.
Jo Clifford’s The Covid Requiem runs 15th – 18th September 2021. More information can be found here
Your new work, The Covid Requiem, is coming to Pitlochry Festival Theatre, what can you tell us about it?
I know it’s going to be very different from your usual play.
For one thing, it’s not a play. It’s a theatrical ritual that’s been written by me and Lesley Orr, and we’re working with two amazing Scottish traditional musicians, Duncan Chisholm and Innes Watson.
What we’re aiming to do is create a very special event, a safe space where we can reflect on what has happened during the pandemic. Where we can celebrate the lives of those loved ones we have lost, and the incredible sacrifices of everyone who worked so hard to relieve suffering and keep life going in the midst of it all.
What inspired you to write it?
My wife died about ten years ago and I remember how incredibly important it was for us as a family to be with her and take care of her in her final illness.
My brother died just before the pandemic started and I spoke the eulogy at his funeral and that made it so clear to me how important it is our loved ones’ stories be told and witnessed after their death.
That made me so painfully aware during the first lockdown of how awful it must be for families to be separated from their loved ones as they died of the disease; and then, to make it worse, not be able to be together at their funerals.
Obviously, these precautions were absolutely essential; but they added another dimension of cruelty to the disease, and I wanted to try to use my skills as a theatre maker to try to alleviate the suffering.
Has writing The Covid Requiem, helped you think about grief differently?
Soon after my wife died, I got together with a dear friend who had just lost her mother, Suzanne Dance, to create a similar kind of show to help everyone who has suffered bereavement.
This show is very different, but it starts from the same basic idea: that we need rituals and ceremonies to help us mourn our loss and that as a society we are perhaps not particularly good at helping each other deal with grief.
Tell us about your collaboration with Lesley Orr, how did it come about and what have you learnt from the experience?
Elizabeth Newman, the director of Pitlochry Festival Theatre, suggested I work with Lesley and I’m so glad she did!
Lesley had worked with my late wife, Sue Innes, so we had a bit of a connection already. Lesley has deep connections with the Iona Community and has worked extensively with survivors of trauma and she has exactly the right mix of skills and sensitivity to make her a truly amazing collaborator.
We both believe passionately in the importance of this project and really enjoy working together.
How will the production at Pitlochry Festival Theatre differ from a ‘traditional’ theatre experience?
It’s a journey through the beautiful woods above the theatre. A very gentle journey, I should add, because I find walking any distance difficult, a journey that’s possible in a wheelchair, and with lots of time to pause and sit down and contemplate the incredible beauty of the Discovery Garden.
We’ll go as far as the beautiful Amphitheatre the theatre has made for this season and then we’ll slowly go back. Being led by the musicians all the way.
The trees and the flowers and the sound of rivers and streams and the view of the distant mountains are all part of it, we’ve discovered as we rehearse, it’s as if they too bring healing and comfort.
Audience members will be invited when they book to share the name of someone they have loved and lost, along with a mention of something that gave them pleasure, and because audiences are limited to thirty we’ll have time to read out the names and what they loved in the course of the performance.
And everyone will have the chance to build a cairn at the end.
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming along to The Covid Requiem?
Bring an open heart. And a hanky.