A eulogy delivered by crass and bashful Stand-Up Comedian Witek is the name of the game in Ashes. The stage is littered with McDonald’s wrappers and loomed over by the urn of Witek’s mother. In many ways, Ashes is a piece about how we lay waste to our bodies, relationships and sensibilities in the face of the absurdity in our own mortality. Exceptional in its’ breadth, the show aims to cornice and convene on living on after death, and living with the inevitability of death approaching us. This is a playfully shocking, woe-inducing cathartic attack on the mortal psyche, with a remarkably catatonic solo performance from Filip Lipiecki at its’ core.
The piece opens with a five-minute long projection of a Zoom call between Father and Son after a parental split. Witek’s Father has clearly embraced the nihilistic side of divorce proceedings, resulting in a agoraphobic depressive episode which Witek tries to both alleviate and suppress with his whimsy. This is the only point in which we see Witek truly ‘try’ to elicit some authenticity in his relationships with his parents, later succumbing to the inevitable weight of discordant family life. The dry and wry comedic timing in this section is hysterical, leaving the entire audience in stitches. It seems a bit of a shame to have such a long section of the runtime be on-screen, however the piece’s fabulously disjointed nature later allows it to blend in more naturally.
Soon, Lipiecki’s Witek emerges onto stage. We soon see the dynamic shift between pre-death Witek and post-death Witek, as he commits fully to a stage presence and needing to ‘perform’ grief for his mother and the audience. He rushes on stage to deliver a eulogy, and then, unhappy with his performance, sprints back off-stage and out of the venue to re-perform it. Soon he addresses the litter of fast food wrappers on the floor, and it soon becomes clear that Witek partakes not only in the over-consumption of junk food, but also junk relationships.
Lipiecki’s performance is a stunning physical masterclass. He flaps and wrings his long limbs into a goofy-but-dark ritual to his collapsing family life and tortured past. In a particularly striking section, Lipiecki attaches his arms and legs to other parts of his body and caprices his skin as words form in the soundscape around him. More comedic moments include Lipiecki precisely managing to not-quite spill his mother’s ashes across the stage and flail around in acerbic release after confronting the regrets he has in his now-concluded maternal relationship.
The often poetic and whimsical attacks that make up the bulk of the play’s prose are performed lyrically by Lipiecki, with intent behind every word and with a decisive voice. The monologues are pertinent, often punctured by Witek’s controversial public persona. Anticipation as to where the show is going builds around a point in which it seems as though Witek is about to do a horrifically offensive accent. This may be a divisive point within the audience, though it is important to recognise Witek as a character and not a real person, and Ashes does brilliantly to construct a show-world that fills you with confidence that it will analyse our relationship to dark humour rather than contrite it.
My only gripe with the piece surrounds its’ setting – a long section of the play takes place in a McDonald’s in which it appears the cashier has a strong American accent and attitude, as do the customers around Witek. This reprises at several points in the play, in which it’s unclear what environment we are supposed to picture Witek within – is it America? Is it Poland? Is it a mix of both or somewhere else? I mention this because in analysing ‘junk food’ culture differs across European borders let alone the Atlantic. It drags us out of the show-world a little when we’re unsure what sort of society to place ourselves in.
Bold, brass and unassumingly cathartic – Ashes packs a punch in dealing with how we process grief and how we can make our short time on Earth better for those we share our time with.
Recommended Drink: A McFlurry, of course.
Performances of Ashes have now concluded at Prague Fringe. Keep up with the company on social media for future showings.