Part of the Death on the Fringe season at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Grave is a one-woman show that occasionally manages to laugh in the face of death. Except this is not out-and-out comedy, but a moment of character introspection and a show that tackles our inevitable end in a way that balances comedy with pathos.
Edinburgh-raised Jen McGregor reads aloud her memories of visiting her parents’ burial site in a remote graveyard. That is the bare bones at least, but this spoken word marvel dealing with decay is much more fleshed out than that. With nods to horror and tragedy alike, Grave is McGregor toiling through her demons as she tries to deal with her parents’ absence. She is magnetic throughout, effortlessly capturing the audience’s attention and helping to draw them away from the everyday struggles of life.
It has heavy moments for sure, but without feeling like it weighs you down. Rather, it feels like a refreshing conversation and take on human demise. At only thirty minutes, the show moves briskly, refusing to dwell on the darkest moments. By incorporating humour, McGregor makes use of her talents of expression, seamlessly blending light-hearted anecdotes with an account of her emotional burdens. The end result is a captivating listen, where every word feels carefully chosen and as significant as the last.
Grave plays out like an extended piece of poetry. Fitting, then, that McGregor unveils her story in the intimate setting of the Scottish Poetry Library. With the crowd so close to her McGregor creates an open, almost confessional space where she can be honest with her listeners. It is also an opportunity for her to unveil her comedic talents, a break-out into song proving to be the show’s highlight. The bright colours of the venue don’t fit the show particularly well – a black curtain or screen would have helped to make the affair more atmospheric – but McGregor commands the space with the authority and variety of a practised storyteller.
Remarkably for a show about death, you feel so alive listening to a story like this. Grave is a captivating show delivered with confidence and skill by McGregor, dealing with difficult topics in a way that feels refreshingly natural.