As the Pulse Fringe Festival slip-slides to a close in the Suffolk mud, the quality of its offerings seems to be improving, as exemplified by Ellie Harrison’s Etiquette of Grief.

They call it the final taboo – the subject that few people willingly talk about but which we all inevitably face. Harrison treats “The Final Curtain” with a little less reverence than perhaps we’re used to, and it’s the “recreational grief” surrounding such celebrity names as Princess Diana, Jade Goody and Michael Jackson that is held up to examination.

Between plying her audience with shots of port, Jammy Dodgers (apparently they were a favourite of the late Princess of Hearts) and cucumber sandwiches, Harrison and her thoroughbred on-screen counterpart Eleanor discuss the concept of collective grief and whether the relatively recent phenomenon of a very un-British outpouring of emotion at such times affects our ability to grieve privately.

Etiquette of Grief may be a little surreal and slapstick at times but, just as the audience is buoyed up by Harrison’s admission that she isn’t really a fan of Princess Diana, and that the looming, suicidal figure onscreen is merely herself in a twin-set (we’d worked it out already), she pulls us down to earth again with a bump. The kitsch spectacle before us isn’t really a sycophantic homage to Diana, or Michael, or Jade; it’s to make us reflect on those we’ve lost and on others’ suffrage of loss – upon the startling realities of bereavement.

Would a more serious approach appeal to the intellectual? Possibly. There has already been a flavour of the lecture theatre at several other Pulse events; perhaps another po-faced event would be one step too far. However, one cannot help but wonder if, while Etiquette of Grief succeeds in making a point, that point might have been pushed home with a little more gravitas in some areas.

Should the Grim Reaper appear, scythe in hand, Harrison would wrestle it off him to cut cake and sandwiches. I, for one, wouldn’t want to annoy him any more than necessary. (PC)

We’re perhaps too used to seeing folk-tales, especially those of mainland Europe, as entertainment for children. Of course, they’re really much darker than that, as re-reading the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen or even Perrault demonstrates. There’s a welcome trend in children’s theatre to go back to original sources and discard all the Disney and pantomime accretions in order to create something which grips young attentions just because it’s not completely familiar.

Welcome to Filskit Theatre and Snow White. It’s mime, shadow-play, music, dance and a host of other, deceptively simple, visual elements. There’s comedy – Katy Costigan and Victoria Dyson provide most of this as the henchmen who make such a dog’s dinner of finishing off the heroine. Sarah Gee’s Snow White is herself something of a wilful lass; you can see why the Queen (her own mother here, not a step-mother) wanted rid of her.
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Music is provided by black-clad Melanie Borsack with keyboard and flute. Against black tabs, white umbrellas hang from the flies and a large one acts as both shadow-play curtain and projection screen. In Japanese theatre mode, Alex Curry brings props on and off the stage as required by the action and pinpoints moments as the drama unfolds with hand-held lights. It works very well and it will be interesting to see what Filskit comes up with next. (AM-P)