The Covid Requiem review – an emotional eulogy for the pandemic's victims

We’ve read about it in the papers. We’ve seen it analysed on TV. We’ve chatted about it in Zoom meetings. But it’s only now, after 18 months, that we can give voice to our experience of Covid-19 in the company of others. For many people, the pandemic dealt a triple blow. It took away their loved ones, it prevented them being present when they were most needed, and it denied them the chance to grieve in public.

The Covid Requiem is a chance to catch up. Written and performed by Lesley Orr and Jo Clifford, it is a simple show, more eulogy than theatre. It needn’t be anything more. Just to express what we have been through seems enough. Yes, we know of the loss, the courage, the selflessness, the opportunism and the errors, but to hear those things spoken to an audience – or do I mean congregation? – feels like a necessary civic act.

Accompanied by the wistful fiddle and guitar of Patsy Reid and Innes Watson, Orr and Clifford join us at the entrance to the Explorers Garden behind the theatre, and talk in turn about the lingering wound of bereavement. Their tone is empathetic rather than maudlin, giving a plain-speaking voice to an inexpressible loss. How do we even begin to comprehend the scale of Covid’s impact? All we can do is bear witness.

As people have done for the victims of other disasters, from HIV to Grenfell, they lace the script with the names of the dead. They give each a pithy summary, listing their likes and loves, from the decades-long marriages and the football fandom to the unsung sacrifices. These miniature stories give glimpses of lives at once ordinary and special.

We hear more of them throughout the short show, performed at staging posts through the gardens, as the mood shifts from reflective to angry to resolved.

Related: Stages of grief: how theatre is helping communities say goodbye

Clifford, in particular, is unabashed about delivering emotion straight, without deflection or irony, but The Covid Requiem is not all pity and love. There is political venom too, aimed at those who have allowed the poorest to suffer the most from a virus once billed as the great leveller.

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