Review: Final Farewell by Tara Theatre – ★★★★
A meditative, thought-provoking self-guided audio-walk around Island Gardens, Final Farewell packs an emotional punch.
Tara Theatre’s Final Farewell, which has popped up at Brighton and Winchester earlier in the year, makes for a contemplative final-weekend piece at GDIF 2022, and thankfully survives the wave of cancellations which arrive in the UK this September.
A self-guided walk around Island Gardens and Millwall Park, whilst listening to audio-stories about people (and a dog) lost during the Covid-19 pandemic, Final Farewell isn’t a joyride of exuberant happiness. But, despite the sombre subject matter and the isolated nature of the audience-of-one experience, Final Farewell is a triumph of storytelling simplicity and trust in allowing audiences to take their time and make their own way through a promenade with few (if any) boundaries.
As audience members don headphones and follow a series of short routes commencing in Island Gardens (opposite the picturesque Naval College in Greenwich), they are immersed in the imagined voices and stories of Shahin, Baby Han, Ann and Oberon – a real variety of backgrounds and perspectives, but all joined by one, sad, common thread.
Writer Sudha Bhuchar, spoke in depth with real people whose memories of departed loved ones, lost during Covid-19, inform each story. Despite the inevitable sadness – and, be sure, there are some tear-jerking moments here – there are flashes of humour, happiness, lives lived and time taken to appreciate the light as well as the dark. Each story has stand-out moments, though perhaps the story of Oberon (a pug) struggles to really hit home – we’re animal lovers at To Do List, but we’d have happily traded in the story of Oberon for more from Ann or Shahin.
There ought to be something for everyone in these stories, which run between 10 and 15 minutes. For some stories, audiences are encouraged to take a seat (or a pew) and really focus on the words and the images they paint. At other times, it can be hard to dedicate 100% attention to the audio track whilst negotiating road crossings or making sure you’re not taking the wrong turn. Perhaps it would be best if each story was experienced at a place of rest and contemplation, followed by a guided walk to the next story stop. But it’s a minor quibble – and, on the fear of going off-track, one of the strengths of Final Farewell’s DIY approach (audiences listen to stories on their own phones, with their own headphones) is that it wouldn’t really matter if you just decided to sit by the river and listen to the four stories, or alternatively head off into Mudchute Park. Really, the emphasis here is on allowing audiences time and space to listen to diverse and engaging voices, and to reflect on loves and losses of the last few years.