This is How We Die, Ovalhouse


Lights down. Spotlight, table, microphone. Christopher Brett Bailey – skinny form and violent shock of hair – walks on and sits down, mouth poised over the mic. And open.

Words words words so many words no pause even for breath seemingly faster even than the mouth the mouth in Not I and it’s a bit like Beckett the loops the associations the dark humour staring unblinking into the void but also like comic books graphic novels a comic book sketched out in words in imagination dark vivid lines phrases jump out “farting clichés” language is twisting mutating losing meaning “linguistic whitewashing” permeated with advertising with marketing with fucking capitalist bullshit and the rage the raw pulsing rage but we are here together and that’s something right here together and that bulge in my pocket is not a revolver I am not going to attack you.

How the hell is he talking so fast?

On stage, Bailey is part beat poet, part swaggering frontman, words curling from his lips with a punk rock snarl. His text, read from a slowly diminishing, neatly stacked pile of pages in front of him, is as linguistically dense as anything I’ve heard. And yet it has a musical quality. As the words pour out, they are sound as much as they are meaning. Language slithers and somersaults. It’s now a diatribe, now a painfully poetic digression, now a gleeful contortion of the way we make words mean.

It’s also bloody funny.

“This is a coming of age story no longer.”

At some point the twisting, turning narrative has become a comic strip of America, a dusty road stretching far into the distance. And here’s the shrapnel of every road trip movie you’ve ever seen, sharp splinters flying in the form of words. It’s cartoonish, but then dirty and bloody and totally fucking exhilarating. It’s every thrilling moment of violence in every Hollywood movie.

“Your life is not a thriller.”

So this is the bit about death. Is this how we die? In a mess of language and violence and desperate searching for meaning. Is this the end we’re obsessed with? The scrubbing out of a miniscule speck in a miniscule corner of the universe, the final heartbeat that we both anticipate and recoil from.

But we’re accelerating. The words are getting faster again Bailey’s mouth moving faster coiling itself around the words that are like weapons and the world around us is accelerating too the world that condenses time and space and all of human knowledge into a black box that can fit in the palm of your hand and now where are we there’s a crowd we are the crowd we are the gladiatorial mob baying for blood demanding a performance demanding the words

the words

the words

And then the words are gone and Bailey is gone and all we have is the lights the blinding lights.

Language is dead.

Hum of bass from the gloom beyond the lights. Strains of violin. The noise builds, the light brightens. A fuck-off growl of electric guitar breaks through the strings. And then louder and louder, brighter and brighter. Shapes outlined faintly in the darkness – or is that my eyes playing tricks on me?

Now the sensory overload is almost unbearable and the music is moving in me, through me, vibrations rippling out from body to body. The sound is a primal throb and the noise and the lights are blinding and the noise and the room seems to hold its breath and the noise the NOISE.

I’m spat back out into the Ovalhouse foyer, ears ringing and hands slightly shaking. I struggle to remember the last time I emerged from a show feeling so physically shaken, so aware of my own body in the charged space of the theatre.

I think: this is theatre you feel. Theatre you feel in your gut and on your skin. Theatre that leaves you a little breathless. And that’s an experience which is all too rare.