Mayfest: A poignant reflection on life and death, ‘How To Disappear Completely’ opens the festival at the Bristol Old Vic in style


14th May 2015


Dealing with the impending loss of a loved one is never an easy experience, but when death comes on slowly and painfully it’s sombre silhouette casts an even more unwelcome shadow than usual.

Sadly, this was the prospect faced by lighting designer, turned one-man-show, Itai Erdal when in 2000 his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and told she had just nine months to live.

Edral, who at the time had recently qualified as a film maker and emigrated to Canada, moved back to Jerusalem to help care for his ailing mother and to document their final days together.

Combining the footage he took at the time with an inventive stage show, that leans on his expertise in stage lighting, we are treated to an hour of poignant and interesting reflections on his relationship with his late mother and more broadly life and death itself.

how to disappear completely

The breadth of questions raised here is enough to make even Socrates’s head spin. What is it that makes life worth living? How does one keep ones dignity at the end? Would you assist a loved one if they begged you to help end their suffering?

It’s certainly a lot to process and even more so for a somewhat reserved British audience unaccustomed to confronting their own mortality (as the occasional squirming and shuffling on seats betrays).

A self-confessed “talker” Erdal makes for the perfect one-man performer. Confessional but not for ‘shock value’, witty without being callous, somber without being morbid, the balance is a hard one to find but find it he does in a way that allows his gregarious nature to shine through.

And the effusive “non-Zionist” certainly does know how to spin a yarn as he recounts tales that range from his childhood in Jerusalem to overly amorous manatees in Papa New Guinea.

His favourite subject though is lighting which he discusses informatively and effectively to bookend the more stark footage displayed on the big screen behind him. It’s those videos that have the greatest impact though, as Mrs Edral becomes ever more fragile and frail and the end looms ever larger.

That’s not to say this is an entirely sombre eulogy, far from it. Edral mixes in a good dose of brevity that reflects the good times he, his family and friends shared with his mother before the illness and medication got in the way.

He does understandably sob through some of these harrowing later scenes though and it does raise the question of how a person could do this to themselves night in night out without leaving some kind of indelible mark.

Emotionally charged and thought provoking this celebration of life and death raises intelligent questions about the end-of-life and what makes life worth living in the first place.

To get tickets for this or any Mayfest show click here.

Kevin McGough