Edinburgh Fringe preview: How To Bury A Dead Mule

Writer/performer Richard Clements brings his show How To Bury a Dead Mule to the Edinburgh Fringe this month.

“The sanity of war becomes the insanity of domesticity as a broken man tries to reconnect with his family after the horrors of WW2.”

We chatted to Richard to find out more about this very personal story.

Where: Pleasance Dome – Jack Dome

When: various dates from 3 Aug

Ticket link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/how-to-bury-a-dead-mule#:~:text=The%20evocative%20story%20of%20Royal,after%20the%20horrors%20of%20WW2.

Promotional.image for How To Bury A Dead Mule

What are you most looking forward to at Fringe?

I love the Fringe, the chance to see such a wide range of fantastic shows all in one place. The colour, the brilliant chaos and of course the chance to bring my own work. 

Your show is one about a real story, that of your grandfather Norman Clements, a Royal Irish Fusilier soldier in the Second World War. Why was it important to bring his story to the stage?

I grew up hearing this one story of him crawling off a minefield in Italy, the only survivor from his unit. It’s never left me that I’m only here because of that.

I wanted his story to highlight what those soldiers went through and how the impact of front line battle on veterans hasn’t changed since it was first spoken about by Herodotus in 490BC. 

Stories of warfare and conflict sadly remain all too relevant and universal. Was this uppermost in your mind when developing the show?

This began purely as a need to write about my Grandfather’s experiences but what started as a personal journey has morphed into something more universal.

I wrote the play with Edinburgh in mind so it’s ready to be shared with international audiences. With the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, these stories are all too relevant but need to be heard.

Just last week, I was reading about a young Russian soldier who had died, and Ukrainian soldiers found his journal. There were extracts within that echoed elements of my Grandfather’s account of his own time in service. 

You also composed music for the show as well as writing and performing as Norman. How important is the music element to the emotional impact of the story?

During the pandemic I sat down and wrote five instrumental pieces for piano. Those served almost as scaffolding for the structure of the story so the music was integral.

The sentimentality of those pieces primarily allowed me to imagine the relationship between my Grandfather and Isobel, my Grandmother, while a more contemporary ambient score is used when Norman appears on the frontline in the heat of battle. 

Your show had a brief run in Belfast with key elements including filmed inserts from Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Film Archive. Did you always plan for archive footage to be used to illustrate Norman’s story?

I always had the feeling that video design would be an important element of the production.

The Northern Ireland Screen Digital Film Archive is an incredible moving image record of N Ireland’s history from 1897 to the present day. It’s free to access, and NI Screen is open for the archives to be used in creative ways.

I felt this play was perfect for that. The NI War Memorial Museum gave me support to bring a video designer on board and NI Screen supported me with access to the archive as well as connecting me with the Imperial War Museum for similar access to their records.

The video design has been essential in the staging of the play and in the show’s journey to Edinburgh, really placing audiences on the battlefield with Norman. 

2 thoughts on “Edinburgh Fringe preview: How To Bury A Dead Mule

  1. My uncle Norman was a highly intelligent man . a thoughtful kind man who never missed Christmas visits to our home in Banbridge with little gifts I loved to see him and listen to his wisdom and advice in between his mind wondering unto issues with government and the royal family , this changed my views on Royalty forever , Norman Clements represented true Royalty fought for his country and suffered a fate worse than death the lucky ones suffering ended on the battlefield, Uncle Norman suffered for 70 years in between his lovely smile that I can see yet one could see the torment in his eyes , Richard captured the mind of Norman thanks to him the story tells the horrors of war and the long term suffering that drags on for the people that where sucked into it ,

  2. As a veteran of 42 years and having been involved in near every conflict since the Falklands war. This portrayal of this veterans experienced was both harrowing and heartwarming ish! In as much of what was so emotionally delivered captures our journeys. Well at least the continuation of conflict many of us experience long after the shooting has ceased. If I had such a grandson I would feel blessed.

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