Friday, 3 April 2015

Theatre Review - This Is How We Die

steven harris attends a performance of This Is How We Die at the Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter...

Words are kinda my thing. Ranty words, sexy words, fish-eye lens words, words from the bottom of the ocean, outer-space words, toilet words: me and words go way back, way out and way, way further than I’d have assumed possible when I was a young wordless egg thing. So to find myself struggling for the words to truly convey the emotional impact and intellectual aftermath of this visceral and enthralling show written and performed by Christopher Brett Bailey signifies one of two things. Either 1) I have run out of words and must learn to speak in hieroglyphs or, b) This Is How We Die has used every single one of the best words in the best possible way. Or gamma) not a third option at all.

Mr Brett Bailey’s delivery is by turns hilarious, rabid, poetic, splenetic, poignant, frantic, soaring, and sardonic. His words tumble onto one another, portmanteau into one another, demand attention in quieter moments, scurry past like graffiti on an express train during the more linguistic beatbox moments.

He’s like Gil Scott-Heron on crack which was sold to him by Charles Bukowski wearing a Kerouac T-shirt and a Hunter S. Thompson badge with David Byrne’s autistic attention to detail peeping above the waist-line of his jeans like a teenager’s pants. But he’s nothing like that at all. He’s all piled high hair and features that grow increasingly like Stan Laurel’s as the evening progresses and the lights inch lower and lower until there is nothing to be seen at the end; the words come to a halt and Brett Bailey walks into back-of-the-stage darkness to pick up a guitar and join another guitarist (George Percy) and two violinists (Alicia Jane Turner and Apollo) to create initially lilting but incrementally discordant and beautifully filthy noises as a coda to the cacophonous words that preceded.

There are various strands to the narrative, all of which left me philosophically stimulated, dry mouthed from laughing, perfectly shocked and carrying a gun in my pocket. Which is probably a euphemism for sporting a massive erection. Or is it? Ask Christopher because that image came from him. If it literally came it would be clearer if it was a gun or a penis. Oh for fuck’s sake it IS clear. It’s a gun And a penis. Why not?

Romance, road-trip, rollicking raconteur reminiscence: these are just a few R words I know. They also relate to the content of This Is How We Die. But you mustn’t take my word for it. I’m just a person saying things in typed words. That’s not the same as seeing the performance. Go see the performance. Check Chris’s website for details of shows to come up and down the country. Hurry. This man’s talents and dedication will take him as far as he wants to go so see him now when the venues are that bit more intimate and the ticket prices that bit more affordable than when he goes global. Unless he goes postal at some stage. Unlikely. Why would you need to when you can exorcise and spume in public with such finesse and raw power? Yes I was thinking of Iggy Pop and the Stooges just then and it’s an appropriate soundtrack in a sense.

Working with Christopher Brett Bailey are a tight group of collaborators all of whom bring something vital to the show even though they are behind the scenes. As well as the musicians there are self-described dramaturg Anne Rieger, production manager Alex Fernandes and producer Beckie Darlington. Together they facilitate this wild ride through the conscious and unconscious philological spasms of the man on stage. A man I now pretty much adore. Don’t worry sir, I won’t be stalking you or stealing locks of your hair. Not today anyway.

steven harris is adverse to putting his name in capitals because names aren't that important. Also, lower case is sexy. steven writes all sorts of stuff including fiction, poetry, songs, opinion pieces and shopping lists. He does not write on lavatory doors any more. his blog has writing in it and can be located at He lives in Devon with an imaginary cat called Kafka.

Follow him on Twitter at @theplanetharris

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