On 13 March 2020, Scotland announced the first confirmed death of a patient due to COVID-19. Since then, 10,687 other people* have died as a result of COVID or due to complications caused by the virus. After 18 months of relentless figures, it’s easy to lose sight of what those numbers mean. In The Covid Requiem, writers and performers Jo Clifford and Lesley Orr seek to rectify this, offering a touching memorial for the lives that were lived and cruelly cut short.
Slowly taking us through Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s Explorer’s Garden, this intimate promenade performance allows its attendees to gradually unload the weight of the past 18 months. During each pause, Clifford and Orr share brief glimpses into the lives of just a fraction of the people who make up those incomprehensible figures. Each person is remembered differently, whether it’s for their favourite foods or pastimes, their professions, their contributions to the community, or their surviving family. Short and sweet, each eulogy delivered by Clifford and Orr is brimming with love. Accompanying Clifford and Orr are Patsy Reid and Innes Watson, who perform a beautifully tender score composed by Duncan Chisholm.
Though Clifford and Orr do not make any overt references to religion, The Covid Requiem’s title and structure does imitate a mass or sorts. In addition to the short eulogies said for each person remembered in the performance, Clifford and Orr’s repeated refrain at the end of each section of the performance adds a ceremonial note to the proceedings. In addition to remembering those who are now gone, Clifford and Orr also find time to celebrate the sense of community that has come out of the pandemic. Though they also address the lies and inaction of government – a pertinent point that is undoubtedly on many minds – they do not dwell on it for too long – not allowing it to take over the proceedings.
The most touching moment comes at the end, when the stones we have carried to represent someone lost to COVID are united with the stones of those who have seen the show before us. The cairn not only represents loss but a community that has come together to support one another, sharing their grief. It’s a beautiful end to this short hour of reflection.
For those who have lost someone, The Covid Requiem will offer a much-needed cathartic release. For those who have been fortunate enough not to have felt that loss, the performance is an opportunity to give thanks.
*As of 21 September 2021