Bristolians are never short of festival options, but Arnos Vale Cemetery’s Life, Death (and the Rest) is particularly likely to pique (morbid) curiosity.
The annual four-day event takes place from Thursday, February 22 to Sunday, February 25 and is packed full of talks, graveyard walks, theatre, film, workshops and more, as part of a growing social movement of discussing death and how we remember loved ones.
Adela Straughan, of Arnos Vale Cemetery, says: “It’s about opening up our gates physically, but also making it a safe space for people to come and have those difficult conversations surrounding death.”
Mortician Carla Valentine will kick of proceedings with the sold-out Past Mortems – Life and Death behind Mortuary Doors, in which she will talk the audience through an autopsy procedure as detailed in her book, Past Mortems, peppered with plenty of anecdotes.
Then there will be gruesome, adult-only Morbid Curiosity Tours on the Thursday (sold out) and Friday nights, giving visitors opportunity to explore the cemetery by torchlight, accompanied by tales of Smallpox deaths, fatal stabbings and more.
Dr Phil Hammond’s sold-out talk on Friday evening reflects on life, the death of two dads and his mum still gate-vaulting at 80 and Carla Valentine returns at 10.30am on Friday for a talk about our relationship with human remains.
Festival-goers can let their hair down at the Death Disco from 8pm on Friday, in what promises to be a life affirming event where attendees are invited to pick three songs that sum up the momentous or fun moments of their life.
Poetry, story-telling, talks, photography workshops and exhibitions are being held throughout the four-day festival.
A guide to putting the fun back into funerals is available at 1.30pm on Saturday afternoon and from 3pm on the same day, visitors can sit down for a tea and chat at the Death Café – the perfect opportunity to eat, drink and discuss death.
Created and performed by Antonia Beck and Lucy Nicholls and directed by Bernadette Russell, the show is a journey of discovery, focusing on the ‘D-word’ and is billed as “the perfect opportunity to celebrate your own mortality, laugh, cry, stick two fingers up at the grim reaper and discover why talking about death is ultimately life affirming”.
Arnos Vale Cemetery has been awarded Arts Council England funding for this flagship event.
Individual festival events are ticketed, visit www.arnosvale.org.uk/life-death-rest/ for the full programme and further details. Kate’s Kitchen will be running extended opening hours over the four days.