History repeats itself. Fashions are forever being reinvented under the lens of nostalgia. Old bands enjoy an uptick in royalties as they find themselves rediscovered by new listeners. Political ideologies are embraced, rejected, then repackaged for subsequent generations. We struggle to recreate childhood comforts when we’re scared and sad, and we all rerun the slideshow of our most anxiety-inducing memories when it’s late and we’re tired but we still can’t sleep.
Smashing all of these ideas into a bewildering, boldly-executed stream of consciousness performance-piece, Die or Run grapples with panic attacks, disco tracks, and the still searingly-radioactive fallout of Thatcherism.
It’s written by Hannah Ringham and Glen Neath, the team behind 2011’s discomforting satire Free Show (Bring Money), and there’s a similar subversive energy on display here. The same crisp writing and tight structure obfuscated by intentionally anticlimactic rambling. The same pleasure in wrong-footing the audience.
As we arrive, Ringham sits in the front row, smiling and nodding her gigantic, hairspray-stiffened bouffant along to the music. Time passes. Gradually, she starts to tell us about the 80s. Her 80s, the way she remembers it. Long hot summers and snow at Christmas. Flawed recollections. Platitudes and slogans. Dripped out in tiny blurts of strained – occasionally desperate – enthusiasm. Simultaneously incomplete and extremely detailed, the way memories tend to be.
Ringham gives an absorbing performance despite the show’s claustrophobic lack of momentum. Though the text is tense and heightened, her delivery is breezily naturalistic, peppered with carefully-considered intonations and deliberate hesitations. She roams the space with the brittle confidence of a stand-up comedian. She dances like your auntie at a wedding. The overall effect is intriguing, relentless yet numbing. Like listening to static, or a song so familiar that you no longer even consciously hear it, you simply soak in it, a warm bath of reassuring sound.
We watch as her picture-postcard memories begin to unravel. As she talks about having to care for her mother. As she switches gears and croaks through a flawless Thatcher impression, “look after yourself first, and then your neighbour.” As she sinks to the floor, curls into a foetal position. As she softly, haltingly, tells herself to get on with it.
Juxtaposed against the jagged collage of Ringham’s performance, Alberto Ruiz Soler’s elaborate sound design becomes a character in itself, charting the production’s shifting tone while guiding the audience’s emotional response. This wordless score of synthy instrumental tracks samples a slew of 80’s touchstones from New Order to Marilyn Martin, with repetitive segments recycling through progressively shorter loops, and occasionally collapsing entirely into a piercing, paralyzingly insistent alarm tone.
It’s a helpful key for decoding the show’s impressionistic, impenetrable text, giving us clues to each dense passage’s intention in the same way that reading a felt-tipped track list on the back of a mix tape cassette gives you a very particular insight into your emotional state when you painstakingly recorded it, track by track, off the radio.
Die or Run is on at Greenside @ Nicholson Square until 24th August, as part of the 2019 Edinburgh fringe. More info and tickets here.