Friday, January 22, 2016

This Is How We Die - Sydney Festival

This Is How We Die written and performed by Christopher Brett Bailey (commissioned by Ovalhouse, UK).  Sydney Festival About an Hour, at Carriageworks, Redfern, Bay 17, January 20 – 24, 2016.

Dramaturg – Anne Rieger; Lighting Design – Sherry Coenen; Sound Design – George Percy, Christopher Brett Bailey; Musicians – Alicia Jane Turner, Christopher Brett Bailey, Matthew McGuigan, James Eccles; Produced by Beckie Darlington.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 21

Christopher Brett Bailey
Photo by Jamie Williams

In summary: superficially clever, but ultimately boring. 

The “action” consisted of Bailey, seated at a small desk with reams of paper and a microphone, apparently reading a sort of prose-poem for 60 minutes.  The opening was a very lengthy, very loudly and very rapidly spoken diatribe against every possible modern “issue” and fashionable mode of expression, which later became a “list” of all the “-ists” which had to be so thoroughly denigrated that even the “list” could not be used because it was an “-ist”.  At this point his girl-friend suggested it would be better to stick to criticising “-isms” because they were principles, rather than “-ists” because they were just the people who proposed the “-isms”.

Though undergraduate philosophical fun of this kind caused some laughter from younger members of the audience, it was hardly a dramatic opening, even if it was an over-theatrical performance on Bailey’s part of skilfully articulated voice work.

The rest of the speech became a series of stories from Bailey, ostensibly in character as himself, following a thin thread of his relationship with “Her” through all sorts of bizarre fantasy situations, including many “mother-fuckers” and many deaths; and raising concerns for us to cogitate upon, such as the nature of the presentation as fiction rather than fact.

At their best, some episodes were momentarily funny and I even caught a faint distant echo of Tim Minchin.  But it was a long hour until floodlights from the stage gradually brightened to the point of blinding the audience.  The storytelling stopped, but at what point or with what significance I am unable to say, and a form of repetitive music became apparent.

As the sound became louder and harsher, the time for our ear plugs came upon us.  I simply held my fingers in my ears so that I could vary the level a bit, but made sure I protected myself from tinnitus.  I think most others did not actually use their ear plugs, but several people got up and left during the almost unbearable ten minutes of aural attack. 

At last the blinding lights began to fade, followed by a lessening of the by now deeply battering-ram sound, until the musicians were revealed with silent instruments.  There was a little clapping as Bailey returned to his desk and asked us to encourage others to attend following performances, since they had “come a long way”.  And we were invited to buy, for $10, his book of the text of the show.

Though This Is How We Die could be seen as a brave attempt at iconoclastic theatre-making, for me it just lacked any subtlety – and I still cannot see what connection the title has with the content of the material, in words or in sound.  Maybe it’s just that I’m not subtle enough to appreciate any deeper meaning.  I declined the offer to spend $10, while I appreciated Bailey’s thanking us for taking the risk of coming to the show without knowing what to expect.

After all, that’s what a Festival is for.

Photos: Jemima Yong, Matthew Humphrey