Tea with the Dead

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Stacy Grouden attended a recent screening of Tea with the Dead, in which a gentle embalmer from Connemara shares cups of tea and chats with his mortuary arrivals.

On Friday. 6th June 2014, up-and-coming Irish animation company Wiggleywoo celebrated the completion of its latest project, Tea with the Dead, with a special screening in the wonderfully atmospheric surroundings of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. Spirits ran high in the room on the night, while spirits of another kind came (back) to life on screen courtesy of the skeleton crew of talented animators and voice actors who worked on the production.

Subtitled ‘Life, Death and a Packet of Digestives,’ Tea with the Dead animates a series of conversations between Frank, a friendly, gentle embalmer from Connemara, (voiced by frequent Wiggleywoo collaborator Frank Kelly) and the recently-departed souls who pass through his mortuary. Taking place over the course of a working week, Frank treats every body that arrives in his parlour with the same attention and respect – which in an Irish context could only mean, asking if they will have a cup of tea. When met with predictably deathly silence, Frank cheerfully responds with, ‘I’ll take that as a yes.’

Once in his kitchen, each person’s ghostly presence warms up to Frank as quickly as it takes a kettle to boil, and a variety of stories are recounted: of first loves, of last loves, of mothers, and fathers, JFK and Dickie Rock.

By times silly, poignant, heartbreakingly sad and deeply, darkly funny, Tea with the Dead presents an engaging anthology of Irish life – and death – focusing on the singular formative relationships that make (or made) life worth living. By combining quirky, distinctive 2D animation and powerful, naturalistic voice acting and dialogue, Tea with the Dead resurrects the spirit of old Irish storytelling with a compelling 21st century twist.

Eight months in the making with only about ten staff members, Tea with the Dead is undoubtedly a passion project for Wiggleywoo, a small but increasingly prolific company founded by Susan Broe, Gary ‘Gilly’ Gill and Alan Foley in March 2012. All five of the stories featured in the film are rooted in the experiences of the friends and family of the cast and crew. The project, Broe explained, was inspired by creative director Gill’s mother’s tale of tracing her own biological mother. ‘I remember sitting down to transcribe her story, for about three days, and I was crying most of the time,’ Broe laughed before the screening, before adding later that, amazingly, all of the other touching, life-affirming stories came from just within the small Wiggleywoo crew.

Following the screening, Bernie Dermody, who voiced Frank’s wife and closed the film with a haunting old Irish ballad, enthralled the audience once more with a live encore performance, ensuring that not a living (or dead) soul remained dry-eyed in the cathedral and palpably reinforcing the much-deserved passion and goodwill for the project in the room.

Wiggleywoo will be bringing a 30-minute cut of Tea with the Dead onto the worldwide festival circuit, before its first domestic airing on TG4 this Christmas 2014. Its other active projects include MYA GO and The Day Henry Met?  They can be found at www.wiggleywoo.com/

 

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