The culture: This Is How We Die, Battersea Arts Centre
The cheap seats: £12 student tickets
Mind-blowing is an overused adjective but Chris Brett Bailey’s sharp and hypnotic This Is How We Die really does blast the grey matter to smithereens. Bailey sits down at a desk under a spotlight and swings the microphone in front of his mouth. He shuffles his stack of papers like a newsreader but instead of a gentle ‘Good evening and welcome to the six o’clock news’ his voice erupts into a stream of words that’s actually more like white water rapids. It’s like Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ crossed with Beckett’s ‘Not I’ and supercharged for the 21st century.
The piece is part elegy for an idealism that never was and part rage against the machine that is the iphone-powered, pastel-coloured capitalist world we live in. Bailey shares his innermost thoughts, philosophies, day-to-day observations and darkest dreams. He spits out his fantasies, sex life and an anecdote about a girl he once dated who was, like, sooo literal that she kept a chain-smoking mouse and had a walking swastika and a body-builder for parents. On a road-trip together they murder a priest.
The piece gets stranger and stranger but the pace never lets up; Bailey speeds through words a mile a minute. “Tonight this tongue is a weapon, this tongue is a whip” becomes a refrain, but he doesn’t use the cat o’ nine tails of his words to inflict pain. He strokes the blade of the knife to feel its seductive power and the possibility of destruction. He looks down the barrel of the gun to admire the view. This Is How We Die is many things but primarily an exploration of the power and beauty of language and a cynical probing of its meaninglessness and its ugly bits.
Bailey stops and disappears into the blackness behind the desk. A crescendo of bone-shaking basslines and electric violins builds. Bright lights dazzle the audience, becoming blinding as the noise reaches maximum decibels but somehow keeps going. It’s no exaggeration to call it a beatific moment. Sucked in by the light and sound, feeling everything but thinking nothing, it’s also probably a lot like dying.
(Written for The Upcoming)