KlangHaus: 800 Breaths, Southbank Centre

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by guest critic Archie Whyld

A dozen or so of us were led to the roof of the Royal Festival Hall where we were told to expect: ‘A multi-sensory encounter of shifting sound, colour and light, which reinvents the gig-going experience as a site-responsive close-up standing performance.’ Whatever that is.

The roof space of the building has a boiler room, pipes and generators claustrophobic submarine feel and we were gently led through it by the actor, performer, musicians The Neutrinos and visual artist Sal Pitman. The guitarist checked his pulse, and then he checked mine, and then he gave me a nod of reassurance.

What was going on? The live music alternated between industrial electronic noise jazz and hypnotic acoustic, haunting lullabies. The projections and colour-scape, provided at points by an old fashioned slide projector, combined with the music and submarine architecture, to create a dreamlike and otherworldly experience. There was no narrative to speak of, other than the mention of breaths – 800 of them. Is this the number of breaths we take in an hour, the length of the performance?

Proceedings culminated with a projection of a cloudscape on the ceiling and the audience being led outside on to the roof of the building to be exposed to the air and the beautiful summer London skies. This is a beautiful moment. Is it theatre, though?

Depends on your definition. Post-dramatic theatre probably, in that there were no discernible characters, nor was there an apparent plot. It favoured feeling and mood rather than action, and in this respect it was hugely successful.

KlangHause: 800 Breaths runs through 23 July.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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Songs For the End of the World, Battersea Arts Centre

 

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Jim Walters is the first person sent to colonise Mars. But when a global apocalypse occurs, trapping him in the Earth’s orbit and running out of oxygen, he and his guitar are left to broadcast music to the devastation below. Can anyone hear him? Are there any survivors? Will he ever know? Dom Coyote and his band the Bloodmoneys present a post-Brexit apocalypse in the gig-theatre Songs For the End of the World, a piece overly heavy on the ‘gig’ and reliant on a plot constructed of dystopian tropes. Though the story is thin, Dom Coyote’s songs are fantastically varied and plentiful, helping to gloss over any shortcomings in the script.

There’s rockabilly, 90s rock anthems, glam rock, and blues numbers with a touch of connecting story sprinkled in between. Set in Ashley Coombe, the village serves as a window into the attitudes of small, English towns of this dictatorial era – the elderly preacher woman who runs the place condemns foreigners, terrorists and space exploration whilst the rebels put on club nights in an underground bunker. The country is now called New Albion and rather than run by an individual, a corporation dictates all rules and procedures. These plot devices are predictable within a story of a dystopian future, but are simplistic enough to work within the gig-theatre format without needing much explanation. As these two tribes clash, Jim Walters is in space – a symbol of both human progress and arrogant dominion. It’s no surprise which side survives down on Earth, and that the future beyond the end of the show looks particularly bleak.

Though the story is overly familiar, the music is wonderfully varied. David Bowie’s promised influence is clear, but not limiting in style. All of the characters in this Little England kitsch/cold international corporation hybrid are suitably blown out of proportion, but feel eerily familiar in a fundamentalist-driven, isolationist Britain and a world where Donald Trump may become the next leader of its most powerful country. Staging is fairly static as per the usual gig-theatre approach, but there is some variation in movement and costume. The lighting design adds power and hope to the bleak, clinical setting.

A more substantial script and dynamic staging would lend more theatricality to the excellent set of tunes in of Songs For the End of the World; as is, it is overly driven by music and the narrative potential is neglected. That said, it would make a fantastic concept album, and the design is strong – an extra half hour of script would add polish to this fun, vibrant performance piece.

Songs For the End of the World is now closed.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight, Ovalhouse

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Along with tickets, we are handed earplugs. Considering Christopher Brett Bailey’s first work This Is How We Die, I’m not surprised. A brilliant, relentless barrage of contemporary American myth followed by an encore of noise and light, Bailey isn’t known for doing things by halves, or even singular wholes. The slight, constantly startled-looking Canadian with gravity defying hair attacks performance making with the energy of a supernova. Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight has the same verve, but is otherwise a rather different beast. Whilst This Is How We Die was dominated by language, Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight has very few words – but the earplugs are definitely needed. This anthemic music and light show fills the room with sound, colour and vibration but is the difficult second album to This Is How We Die. Much more of a gig than a piece of theatre, it lacks the satisfaction of characters and narrative, even a hint of one. Bailey’s mind blowing poetry teases with a few tiny fragments, but otherwise leaves us desperately gagging for more of his words.

Though given earplugs, there is the choice of whether or not to use them. Notices state that the sound level is consistently over 100 decibels and that, “if you wear plugs the whole time you might compromise enjoyment of the show. and if you don’t wear them at all you will take home whistling ear canals”. Being one of those people sensitive to loud noises who constantly asks my other half to turn down the telly, I want to play it safe but I don’t want to miss out. So I opt for one plug in, with the other ready. This choice no doubt effects the experience – if I leave them out the whole time and feel discomfort, would I like the show less? Or would I like it more because it’s not actually ‘that’ loud? I use the plugs in response to the volume level – sometimes I have both in, sometimes none. It’s an interesting premise to consider that the experience and quality of the show hinges on these earplugs, adding an additional level of individual, subjective response.

Bailey’s voice, slow and unseen, repeats, “this is a hell dream” in a brief textual introduction. Violinist Alicia Jane Turner uses loop pedals to sculpt a cinematic score reminiscent of mid-90s rock anthems. Her work is wonderfully angry, sweeping and alive. George Percy and Bailey are both on guitar, forming a silhouetted triptych with Bailey soon in the middle – amongst the monolithic speakers and flight cases forming a brutalist, urban landscape, he cuts the figure of a scrappy dystopian overlord. It suits him. If this is what hell is like, it’s fucking glorious.

Behind each performer is a wooden panel of about a metre square made of deconstructed pianos and their strings. These are visually impressive structures in and of themselves; their music evokes the violence and community of tribalism. Combined with excellent sound-responsive lighting (that malfunctioned to the point that the show needing to be stopped briefly), the overall effect is one of epic, soul shaking community.

The title paired with the music evokes the American paradox of a friendly but violent people who love their guns as much as their families. The music’s scale captures the expanse and variation of the North American landscape, and the few words he shares on the experience of waking up from a nightmare to find the world unchanged darkly foreshadow Trump’s America. Whether or not this is an intentional message, it is certainly a powerful one.

Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight is certainly wide open to interpretation and shows Bailey’s ambition and range as a performer of work designed to push the senses to their extremes. His textual dexterity is certainly missed (particularly by the coked up, flailing pair of young women sat next to me commenting on how disappointing this work is compared to his first) and comparatively this piece is somewhat disappointing, but it absolutely has its merits as a visceral, “fuck you/I love you” performance piece.

Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight tours nationally through November.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.