Review: HOW TO LIVE (After You Die) – UnWrapped at Sydney Opera House (NSW)

Written and performed by Lynette Wallworth

Review by Caitlin A. Kearney

Following a serene, transporting minute of scene-setting music, renowned filmmaker and artist Lynette Wallworth entered the stage and welcomed us into the landscape of a section of personal history that she had held close for a long time. “Some stories are like family,” she explained, “you have to look after them for a long time before allowing them out into the world.” It was a striking way to begin, and gently but clearly informed us that it took great vulnerability to create the work we were about to experience.

The history Wallworth brought to light in this solo storytelling piece was the several years of her young adulthood that she lost to an extremist cult, and the many things stolen from her along the way; her childhood sweetheart, her passion for art, her sense of self. Astonishingly – though perhaps this is partially due to the time that has passed – there was not a trace of bitterness in the telling. In fact, the humour in Wallworth’s script was delicate, kindly self-deprecating, and even pleasantly silly in parts. The way she described the insidious, creeping influence of the group that held her in its grip was chilling. As I listened I began to wonder if I could ever be so methodically seduced away from the people or things who bring me joy, love, confidence, and peace– for the ultimate total benefit of someone other than myself.

HOW TO LIVE (After You Die) is a masterful and moving feat of storytelling, and the world is lucky to have heard it.

This was truly a story of narrow escape and of rebirth; of how Wallworth retained her powers of critical reasoning enough to eventually understand that she was being manipulated and lied to. It is important that hopeful tales like these are told– that we approach the generosity of accomplished artists like Wallworth with reverence, for it is only after stories of real heartbreak have been offered up in such raw detail that the full gravity of a person’s survival can be appreciated. Often we are sold images of successful, interesting people who have suspiciously never suffered any fall from grace– or perhaps they have, but have immediately become flawlessly repossessed of themselves. It is difficult for the average person to see themselves in perfection and find relatability. It was not only Wallworth’s authenticity and honesty in sharing her initial trauma that made her so listenable; it was also that she let the story rest for such a long time that its delivery had been enriched by entwinement with stories of what has taken place since. These were unflinching tales of recovery that had played out over the many years between the period she was involved in the charismatic group and today, and they extended the exploration of how trauma can continue to echo across a person’s timeline.

Behind Wallworth, a huge screen displayed key words and phrases as she spoke them, as well as various stills– some with subtly digitally animated elements– from her filmmaking work. These beautiful stills only came up to illustrate spoken tales of Wallworth’s travels when they were relevant threads in the larger narrative.

For ninety minutes Wallworth spoke, holding our full attention from start to finish. It was worth wondering how many audiobooks she must have narrated with a voice so warm, calm, and consistent. Despite the pain and loss so eloquently shared with us throughout, the image on the screen that best represented the tone of the piece, was the quiet but majestic moving image of a blanket of stars rolling slowly overhead in the depths of the Australian desert. The comfort of the environment created was the reason that everyone remained so firmly onboard for the duration of the journey, no matter how unsettling or upsetting some of the textual scenery was.

HOW TO LIVE (After You Die) is a masterful and moving feat of storytelling, and the world is lucky to have heard it.

Reviewer Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

HOW TO LIVE (After You Die) played at Sydney Opera House 12-14 May 2022. See their full UnWrapped season here.


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