Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Pauline Goldsmith - Bright Colours Only

Death becomes Pauline Goldsmith. Or at least that's how it seems anyway, as the Belfast born actress and writer revives her funeral-based solo show which she first performed it at the turn of the millennium. In the years since she first did the show, which looks at the ritual of a wake in tragi-comic fashion, Glasgow based Goldsmith has proved herself to be one of the country's most adventurous performers.

With a track record which has seen her playing Samuel Beckett's solo piece, Not I, at the Arches to regular stints with Vanishing Point theatre company, with whom she is a creative associate, Goldsmith has developed a willingness to fly without a safety net. Bright Colours Only itself was somewhat ahead of the current wave of solo theatre performers. By returning to it, Goldsmith is part taking stock of her own mortality.

“If I wait much longer, it's going to be too near the knuckle,” she says. “Me being in a coffin when I'm at death's door myself might be a bit strange, whereas now I'm probably just the right side of middle age to be able to get away with it. It's quite weird coming back to it, because there's a whole thing in it about writing down your regrets. I was thirty-two when I first did the show, and looking at a list of regrets now, it would just get longer and longer, but we've only got an hour to play with.”

It is an hour where tea and biscuits are mandatory in a show that sees Goldsmith chatting with the audience on matters of life and death with an intimacy akin to being invited into her living room. This has been the intention all along, from the show's early days at the Arches and Theatre Workshop in Edinburgh, to a one-night revival last year for Summerhall's celebrations of the day of the dead.

“One of the first things that made me want to do the show was after I'd been at my grand-mother's funeral, waiting for the cortège,” Goldsmith remembers of the show's beginnings. “In Belfast, the cortège is where you have a laugh, walking behind the coffin. I clocked a relative from England, who looked appalled by this, and I thought, no, you're wrong, this is how we do it here. The cortège can sometimes be painful, and sometimes it's a celebration, and it's a fantastic tradition. Then, coming over to Scotland, it's different again, sitting in the cremation room, all lined up in total silence like you're waiting in a bus shelter.

“The other thing about wanting to do it was, I had a dream I was dead and I was saying goodbye, but I realised I wasn't ready. Then, in the dream, someone came over and said, Pauline, people have travelled for this, so let's get on with it.”

Goldsmith first observed the comic absurdities of death when she attended the funeral of her father.

“That was my first experience of a full-on Catholic wake,” she says. “I saw the whole ridiculousness of what I also recognised as being a really important ritual in Ireland. That's why my mother would never let me be an air hostess, because she said that if anything happened, people would never be able to find the body.”

Funerals, however, ain't what they used to be.

“When I first did Bright Colours Only, Six Feet Under was on the television,” she says of the very twenty-first century funeral directors depicted in the American TC drama, “and it started to become much more mainstream to have your own kind of funeral. Now people have started to rebel against that, so you don't even have to bother with a service if you don't want to. You can just get cremated.”

All of which has been more grist to the mill regarding Goldsmith's never morbid line of enquiry.

Bright Colours Only may be about death,” she says, “but it's also about the ridiculousness of what we do in life. The work I do, I'm always drawn to looking at darkness, but in a way that's about slapping yourself in the face and reminding yourself that you have to live. Bright Colours Only came from the idea of a dramatic death, but also from recognising that death is a part of life. As you get older, friends die, and it's still bizarre. That doesn't ever stop.”

Neither, it seems, will Bright Colours Only, which seems to have developed a life of its own. Beyond Goldsmith's own performance of the show, there has been a completely different London production of the play, with another actress picking up Goldsmith's mantle. Elsewhere, there have been two tours of Norway, while it has even been translated into Portuguese.

“It's the show that won't lie down,” Goldsmith says, as full of life as she ever was.

Bright Colours Only, Assembly Rooms, August 3-26, 2.25-3.35pm.
www.assemblyfestival.com

The Herald, August 9th 2017

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