Dying light: rehearsals for The Nine O'Clock Slot. Photograph: Phoebe Cooke
Dying light: rehearsals for The Nine O’Clock Slot. Photograph: Phoebe Cooke

A new play exploring the rise of modern-day ‘paupers’ funerals’ is to explore the taboo subject of death using poetry, humour as well as audiovisual and physical comedy.

The Nine O’Clock Slot, by East End-based theatre company ice&fire and directed by Lisa Spirling, retraces the lives of four individuals buried in communal graves and will be the first play staged in Shoreditch’s Red Gallery.

Annecy Lax, who co-wrote the play with Hannah Davies, says they were started writing it after developing a fascination with the death industry and the Dickensian concept of ‘paupers’ funerals’.

“We became really interested that in a city where there is so much and so many people, that people can die alone with absolutely nothing, so that the state has to take care and look after their arrangements,” she says.

Lax and Davies interviewed local hospital chaplains, mortuary assistants, soup kitchen helpers and hospice carers for the play.

They also spoke to women in their 70s, 80s and 90s at a community centre in Tower Hamlets who spoke with humour and levity about dying and inspired the play’s title.

“The 9 o’clock slot is the one nobody wants. It’s a real mark of shame if you have to have an early morning funeral,” Lax explains.

The Nine O’Clock Slot is at Red Gallery, 1-3 Rivington Street EC2A 3DT from 26 March until 19 April. For tickets see www.iceandfire.co.uk.

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