This Is How We Die, Battersea Arts Centre

Chris Brett Bailey is a bard of thhqdefaulte modern age. Like Elizabethan theatre the audience went to hear rather than to see, This Is How We Die is a bombardment of the ears rather than the eyes. Using spoken word and beat poetry to tear open the world as we know it, Bailey forces us to confront the horrors and beauty of everyday existence. This piece of theatre moves away from the trend of visual theatre, taking the audience on a self-reflective ride of their lives.

At just over an hour, we are hurtled on a journey through Bailey’s rage against “-isms” and “-ists,” a brutal first meeting with his overly-literal girlfriend’s parents and a Hunter S. Thompson-like roadtrip through the American desert. His delivery is relentless, pausing only for comic effect or to take small sips of water from the glass that sits on his desk. Yes, a desk. He sits at a desk, with his script in front of him. This form rails against the increasingly visual culture we live in but it forces the audience to really and truly listen. He has a lot to say that he feels strongly about and you need to hear it.

Trying to describe what This Is How We Die is about is futile. Anything descriptive about plot or narrative arc will make this piece sound simplistic and trite. The feature that really makes this a must-see is Bailey’s visceral use of language. He savours it, relishes it and throws it away. A sea of sound washes over us, then pummels us, unarmed, in a back alley behind some dingy American bar. His imagery alternates between abstract and concrete, the highlight being his girlfriend’s neo-Nazi father left shaped like a swastika after a car accident.

The last ten minutes or so abandons speech, instead favouring live ambient music and harsh lighting. This is his Elizabethan jig, the audience’s catharsis after the emotional Sturm und Drang of the last hour. There was no point in fighting the journey of This Is How We Die so you may as well join him. Share in his rage, his joy and his passion. Relish the world you live in and the sounds of the words that pour so easily from his mouth. This isn’t about how we die, but how we should live.


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My Initial Response to “This Is How We Die”

Today I gaze at anticipatory faces. Chasing A-stars, they wait.

And wait.

And wait.

I struggle to face the mundane day lazily unwinding in front of me. The bullet train fever dream of last night’s memory rips at my periphery but I have piles of goddamn exam papers to hand out and count down the time for those little eyes lined up in front of me.

“You have seventy-five minutes to complete this exam paper. Raise your hand if you need anything. You must not speak.”

You must not speak.                         You must not speak.                     You must not speak.

The silence of rustling papers and scratching pens and scraping chairs deafens me. Fatigue caresses my face already propped up by tapping, restless fingers frustrated with marking the correctness of the explanation of hot seating and how its used in my year 9 Drama class.

The middle distance pops up, slides in.

I ruminate.

Never had I thought I’d find Shakespeare reincarnate, but he’s there, under the rioting hair of a Canadian paranoiac, raging at the space he faces of pairs of eyes lined up. He bombards, he bashes, he races. The world we know but ignore is exposed. The guts hang out, the greed, the hate. The racism, the fascism, all those “isms” and “ists” that stain and distend, that we block out to keep out tiny, insignificant spheres of existence perfect and quiet and numb.

This bard makes us see.

He stops.                                                                                                           He whispers.

Just him at a desk with a script and a glass and some lights.

And us. We face him. We hear him. We drink in his sounds, his words, his allegorical tales of love found and lost and open road desert adventure. This is confessional. This is a soul ripped open and we are going to ingest it, whether we want that screaming, raw mass inside us or not. Not through our mouths, but with our ears we catch his lightning, eventually blinded by words and light and music.

We are overcome.

We are left.

We are the catalysts of our own change.


The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.