The medieval saint Anselm once located god in magnitude. By a sly tautologous route he posited a “being than which no greater can be conceived”: If anything can be said to be greater than the next thing, then the greatest thing of all is that which we call god. Urban gay atheist Chris Goode feels his way towards his god with the revelation “there is nothing bigger realer and more vivid in the world”; coming across it in an ordinary way, with hands full of shopping bags and a head full of ordinary “stuff”, a Damascene street scene transcending the “Weetabixicity” of it all.
Elsewhere Goode has written of the social critic Paul Goodman’s concept of “masterly adequacy”, a type of performance Goodman admired in friends and lovers as well as on stage. Despite its American origins this is an idea with a distinctly British feeling; just as Pink Floyd pointed out that Thoreau’s “quiet desperation” was “the English way”. And maybe masterly adequacy requires some knowledge of quiet desperation to remain what it is – a gently pressed leaf in a world of plastic trees and steroidal handshakes. This is Goode’s idiom, and what hurried critics mistake for humility. It is the emotional superstructure of pain. It is ordinary, partly the everyday art of necessary improvisation. It is certainly beautiful. Goode’s work is like being suspended in a duvet of essential goodness, feeling the deep-working softener in the Judeo-Christian fabric. It is shiningly and winningly secure in the knowledge that to be better is not necessarily to be greater.
His biographer Eadmer noted how Anselm, who did as much to advance the interests of the church than any medieval bishop, would use a combination of kindly persuasion and “holy guile” to achieve his worldly ends. “Holy guile” is as good a description of GOD/HEAD as any. The way its unimpeachably plain autobiographic style comes with layers of troubled mediation, how it completes devilishly subtle manoeuvres with open hands, the pains at which it cloaks textual cunning in calm garb. We are introduced to Iyanla Vanzant, a spiritual self-help guru Goode would watch on Oprah in a sofa daze. Her evangelical certainty, her preacherly command of her audience, is masterly super-adequacy, guile mixed with steel. Goode is perfectly happy to acknowledge his resistance to this sort of thing (“so embarrassing, I hang out with Marxists”) but it’s through an identification, and a disidentification, with her style that this piece gathers its breath.
Tonight his characteristic open face, his clear tenor and carefully inclusive mode of address (Goode has long reminded me of the best kind of vicar, with none of the compromises) are implicated in a quietly excoriating self-examination. Articulately putting aside the ideas and debates as old as civilisation (“the ideas aren’t where the action is”) Goode’s God comes from a feeling, which, in its cleaving Bostonian truth becomes more than a feeling. It is as complex and scattered as snowflakes. It is the product of the fallen, and of the urge to declare the fall. It is the cracks between object and subject. It is the battle to see and be seen, to reveal and be revealed. It is pure light and bestiality. To fuck, be fucked and made to fuck. Loneliness and love. So much ordinary ‘stuff’ in his morning head, that this can only come from a line drawn from chest to heart. Like steam erupting from a pineal gland; some long felt-for metaphysic of liberation; in Goode’s terms of studied bathos, like “being naked and really sad and staring at an animal and the animal staring back.”
And finally, through a whispered conversation with one of his own characters, an unnamed germinal boy alone in a bedroom: the divine authority of the maker of art. And we return to the calm muted colours, the simple stilted purgatorial-chatshow set, the clever presence of tonight’s collaborator Tom Hughes (Goode calls on different collaborators each night). To call GOD/HEAD ‘personal’ is like calling Hamletmaschine ‘fragmented’. With a sculpted lack of hubris, with a gospel as plain as a nocturnal encounter with a lover, with Cartesian closeness it reaches for what it can feel to be true about being. It’s not perfect – a slight dampness in the structured variations, some slightly clunky neuroscience parts, and a physical dimension that hints at more – but to err is human, and this piece of devised theatre is as close to divine as anyone could pray for on a rainy night in South London.