The 2015 Death on the Fringe Lectures brought eminent medical, academic and end-of-life care professionals to Edinburgh to discuss the latest thinking on the topic, stimulating discussion and challenging established ideas.

They were part of Just Festival 2015.

Each lecture took place at St. John’s Church Hall, Princes Street followed by a Death Cafe.

Mon 10 Aug  …   Professor Scott Murray – A Better Place to Die: Africa or Scotland?

Professor Scott A. Murray is a GP and also St Columba’s Hospice Chair of Primary Palliative Care at Edinburgh University. He used to work in rural Kenya and has published research in the British Medical Journal comparing how people die in Kenya and Scotland. He will talk about the many contrasts between the two, and how each country can learn from each other to help people live and die well. Africa can teach us many positives in dying!

Mon 17 Aug   …   Jo Hockley – Dying To Tell

Jo Hockley is a nurse specialist who has spent the major part of her career caring for people who are dying, and undertaking research. She worked with Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the hospice movement, and now works at the University of Edinburgh. Many people in the last days of life know very well they are dying – it is their body not ours; yet, we so often collude otherwise. Jo will be sharing stories and literature that bring the whole subject of death and dying alive.

Mon 24 Aug   …   Dr Jeremy Keen – Living with Dying: Uncertainty and Hope

Dr Jeremy Keen is a Consultant Physician in Highland Hospice, Inverness. He has worked in Palliative Care for the last twenty years, in Edinburgh, Canada and latterly in the Highlands. Whilst principally a front line clinician, his areas of particular interest include the interrelated concepts of dignity, personhood and quality of life. Jeremy will be talking about the centrality of hope in enabling living with a life-shortening illness (drawing on the experience of working as a Hospice Doctor for the last 20 years).

Mon 31 Aug   …   Dr Richard Smith – Death: The Upside

Without death every birth would be a tragedy. Sadly we are almost at that stage. We need to learn to see the many positive aspects to death, but the evidence shows both that our society denies death and that the denial causes pain and suffering. Death denial also diminishes living and causes problems beyond healthcare. Unfortunately doctors may be more part of the problem than the solution. Former BMJ editor Richard Smith will discuss the growing movement to rediscover the positive aspects of death.

The lecture series was accompanied by a programme of death-related shows:

Wed 5 – Mon 31  /  Lynn Ruth Miller: Get A Grip (C Nova)
Old Comedian of the Year nominee guides us through eight decades of triumphs and failures.

Wed 5 – Mon 31 / Scattered (C Nova)
Dark comedy with a twist, exploring the nature of a family ripped apart and patched back together.

Thu 6 – Sun 23  /  Holly & Ivy (Jekyll & Hyde)
Heart-wrenching play about two sisters brought back together by the death of their mother.

Thu 6 – Sun 30  /  A Gambler’s Guide To Dying (Traverse Theatre)
The story of one boy’s grandad who, diagnosed with cancer, gambled his savings on living to the year 2000.

Thu 6 – Sun 30  /  Jack Rooke: Good Grief (Underbelly Cowgate)
Comedian Jack Rooke’s debut hour examines how we treat bereaved people and challenges proposed 2016 welfare cuts for grieving families.

Thu 6 – Mon 31  /  Ross & Rachel (Assembly George Square Theatre)
A dark and uncompromising new play about romance, expectation and mortality.

Fri 7 – Sat 22  /  Fiesta de Los Muertos (theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall)
Music, theatre, and storytelling show, inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead.

Fri 7 – Sat 29  /  The Ascension of Mrs Leech (Greenside @ Infirmary Street)
Old Mrs Leech dies and gets caught in a celestial squabble in this witty comedy.

Sat 8 – Sun 30 / John-Luke Roberts: Stdad-Up (Voodoo Rooms)
Incredibly silly comedy show about having and then not having a father, and how stupid you need to make yourself look to speak ill of the dead.

Mon 10 – Sat 15  /  Father Time (SpaceTriplex)
Adaptation of the Grimms’ Godfather Death & Gambling Hans, with puppetry, live music and song.

Mon 10 – Thu 20  /  God’s Waiting Room (theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall)
A man with dark secrets meets an untimely end and is suddenly forced to meet his maker.

Tue 18 – Sun 30  /  Am I Dead Yet? (Traverse Theatre)
Two friends, talking (and singing) about what happens when we die, and, most importantly, how some of us might be brought back.

Mon 24 – Sat 29  /  Broken Biscuits (theSpace on the Mile)
Rita’s son James took a fatal bullet in Afghanistan saving Maggie’s son Paul. Can Maggie save Rita?

Mon 24 – Sat 29  /  Tension Square (theSpace on the Mile)
New play explores issues of relationships, domestic abuse and terminal illness hidden by young people.

Mon 24 – Sun 30  /  So It Goes (Underbelly Cowgate)
A frank, funny and endlessly inventive true story about love and loss.

The 2015 programme also featured the Death on the Fringe Cabarets, two evenings of poetry, music and performance reflecting upon life, death and grief, featuring established local performers. The cabarets were possible thanks to the kind support of Sweet Venues, who donated use of the performance space.

Thu 13 Aug  …   Death on the Fringe Cabaret (Sweet Grassmarket)   …  7.45 – 9.15pm

An evening of poetry, storytelling and music from local performers.

Andrew Philip has published two books of poetry with Salt Publishing — The Ambulance Box and The North End of the Possible — both of which are now, sadly, out of print. Many of the poems in The Ambulance Box, which was shortlisted for several awards, grew out of the death of his newborn son in 2005.

Lindsay Macgregor started writing poetry in 2008 at the Fife Maggie’s Centre. Since then, she has completed an MLitt in creative writing  at the University of Dundee and currently holds a New Writer’s Award from the Scottish Book Trust. Her pamphlet, The Weepers, will be available from Calder Wood Press in Autumn 2015.

Rob A Mackenzie lives in Leith. His most recent poetry collection is ‘The Good News’ (Salt Publications, 2013). He is reviews editor for Magma Poetry magazine and has read his work at many events, including the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the StAnza International Poetry Festival, St Andrews.

Tessa Berring, poet

Jen McGregor, director

Sarah Nichols, harpist

Tue 25 Aug … A Wild Night and A New Road: A Celebration of Dying (Sweet Grassmarket) … 7.45 – 9.15pm

Music and words to celebrate the last journey. Hosted by Mark Sheridan and Maria McGill, with Michael Russell, MSP, Norrie Bissell, poet, and Dave Francis, musician and poet.

Mark Sheridan is a composer and academic and has written a number of large scale works for traditional and classical musicians, including ‘The Curve of the Earth’ for Alasdair Fraser, an Opera ‘When they lay bare’ for Pat Kane, Horse MacDonald and Julie Fowlis and ‘Flight of the Arctic Tern’ for narrators and musicians.

Maria McGill is the CEO of Children’s Hospice Association of Scotland and a Trustee of the UK charity, Together for Short Lives. She is an advocate of open discussion on death and dying as well as a great believer that life is for living!

Michael Russell, MSP for Argyll and Bute, was until recently the Cabinet Minister for Education and Life Long Learning, He has and held other cabinet posts in Arts and Culture, Gaelic and the Environment. He is an author, photographer and filmmaker and his work includes, ‘Grasping the Thistle’, ‘The next big thing’ and seminal works on Werner Kissling, photographer. He has previously performed with Mark in ‘The Flight of the Arctic Tern.’

Norman Bissell is a poet based in Luing. His collection ‘Slate, Sea and Sky’ has just been reprinted by Luath Press. He led the creation and establishment of the very splendid ‘Atlantic Isles Centre’ in Cullipool.

David Francis and Mairi Campbell. Dave is a poet, an accomplished musician and writer – and is a member of ‘The Cast’ with Mairi. He is CEO of Traditional Music Forum and a director of ‘Distil’ and has run various courses and events over the years to promote the work of traditional musicians in Scotland.  Mairi is an influential Scottish musician whose songs and soundings reflect Scotland’s dynamic energy. In recent years, Mairi has been awarded ‘Scots Singer of The Year’ and ‘Tutor of The Year’ at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards. She has also won the Live Ireland Music Award for ‘Best Female Musician of the Year’, as well as the award for ‘Best Composition of the Year’.