Michel Graindorge was a prominent left-wing lawyer in Belgium, building his reputation on a consistent fight for prisoners’ human rights within the judicial system. In 1978, he became temporarily notorious when his defendant, François Besse, escaped from court during his trial. Graindorge was imprisoned for four months for presumed complicity before the case against him was dropped and he was able to resume his work.
He died without ever discussing his guilt or innocence with his daughter. Partly to explore this, and partly to honour and remember this great man, she has created Before the End. Her dad never wanted to die, she tells us. Despite coming close to death several times in his life, he’d remained in complete denial even when he was moved into the palliative care ward at the end of his life. But the show is far more than an exploration of the demise of a man who refused to die: it’s also a fun, funny, and tender celebration of his life.
A multimedia feast, Catherine Graindorge has constructed this show from news footage, film footage (courtesy of Elie Rabinovitch), precious mementos from her family’s history including the musical score of a waltz penned by her grandad, her memories, her dad’s diaries. An actor, theatre maker and comedian, she also plays the violin and uses looping to create dramatic soundscapes to accompany this sweeping narrative. She’s a very engaging performer, stumbling endearingly now and again over unfamiliar multi-syllabled English words but regardless, her delivery is captivating.
This is a beautiful production. Graindorge’s story is thrilling, absorbing, thought-provoking, as scintillating as her father must have been. She questions the nature of justice, the nature of love, the meaning of life and the quest for purpose amidst its inescapable march. She describes her efforts to untangle her life from the shroud of her father beyond his death. We can hope that in creating such a fine tribute, she has found some sort of peace.