Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 9 May 2018

Review: Chris Brett Bailey triple bill at Battersea Arts Centre

20th-21st April

Awe-inspiring noise: Lilith Wozniak reviews a four and a half hour triple bill of spoken word and intense sounds from Chris Brett Bailey.

Lilith Wozniak

Christopher Brett Bailey performing This is How We Die. Photo: Claire Haigh.

Disclaimer: I went to see the Christopher Brett Bailey triple bill with a large group of obsessive CBB fans so many of the ideas in this review will be shamelessly purloined from their thoughts and the conversations we had over the evening.

This Is How We Die
The first show of the evening is perhaps Bailey’s most well known. This Is How We Die is made up of around 50 minutes of constant words streaming from Bailey’s mouth and 10 minutes of loud music and flashing lights. The first time I saw it I was stewarding and almost fell back down when I got up to open the doors.

That evening’s performance of it seemed much more casual than I or my friends had seen it before – Bailey addressed late-comers, even passing back the previous pages of the show for them to catch up. It felt nice, potentially opening up interpretations and inflections of the lines that hadn’t been there before.

What I hadn’t noticed before in the show was how masterful Sherry Coenen’s lighting design is even before the spectacular ending – imperceptibly connecting us to Bailey then isolating him again. It matches the almost trance-like effect of the text itself – while there are sections that I could quote endlessly there are other which wash over me, suddenly realising I don’t know what’s been said, the words playing too fast and too free for me to keep up.

It is this state which makes the instrumental ending work so well – the text is rewarding but it can also be tough. The first strains of violin feel like a small shaft of light shining into the dark world that Bailey has constructed. When it takes over completely it feels like we can let go of our close concentration to be carried on the waves of sound and light. It feels like a cold glass of water after a victory lap – neither the text nor the music would be half as effective without the other, and together they create a full, bodily, visceral experience.

‘Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight’. Photo: The Other Richard

Kissing The Shotgun Goodnight
Following the shape of This is How We Die, as the evening goes on the text thins out and the sound takes over. Bailey is joined by musicians Alicia Jane Turner and George Percy, and it feels like this is the only way it could work. The shows may have the attitude of attacking the audience with a wall of sound but really it is always the words that are lacerative, while the noise comes to disturb and discomfort but also to burn the wounds clean.

As the sections of text and memorable lines start to disappear the shows become more ephemeral. Kissing The Shotgun Goodnight exists in my memory more as a collection of flashes and feelings than moments. The mysterious passing lights (by Lee Curran this time), the tired and angry words, the beaten pianos producing yet more sound from their broken bodies, Turner crouched on the floor, the microphone being swung like a lasso catching feedback. I really love this show but it is probably the one I find hardest to describe.

‘This Machine Won’t Kill Fascists But it Might Get Your Laid’. Photo: Jemima Yong

This Machine Won’t Kill Fascists but it Might Get You Laid
Entering the Battersea Arts Centre’s Members Bar for the final show of the evening was rather awe-inspiring. Stood on four plinths, Bailey, Turner, Percy and Ivy Alexander surveyed the guitars hanging before them from chains. At first they approached them like some future priests who had rediscovered the electric guitar, and used them as sacred ceremonial objects, despite having no idea how they worked. They solemnly investigated them, hitting and pushing and yanking their chains, inserting metal rods to create bell-like sounds. One by one, slowly, they took their guitars down and started to play, the volume growing as they did so.

This show was the only really, truly LOUD part of the evening (and boy was it) but even it had within it moments of quieter, more delicate beauty, where it felt like the room was being filled with climbing, clinging, watery vines, transporting us to a place elsewhere. This was possibly the only moment in the show that included harmony, much more the piece revolved around rhythms, using the space to pass the sound back and forth and around the audience.

Being outside a theatre setting made the piece much freer in how it could be enjoyed. A friend commented that you could tell the difference between the metal fans and the noise fans in the audience. While I don’t have much experience of either genre even I could tell the truth of it – some people swayed, some people nodded, some people completely let themselves be free, thrashing and dancing wildly. This freedom of how to enjoy the show carried over to people going to stand by the edges of the room, and even leaving and coming back, which felt important for a show that could be potentially overwhelming.

I was very grateful of that freedom when the heat and the noise and the blood flecked liberally over Percy’s guitar made me feel a little queasy –  a moment outside helped me enjoy the ending. Sadly it did mean that I missed half of the climactic moment of the show, where each performer destroyed their guitar by a different method. It felt as sincere yet ritualistic as the beginning, anger and rebellion balancing with simply ‘the way a guitar show ends’.

The whole evening was perfectly formed as an event – from booking the tickets to leaving the last show it felt like something special and exciting, the kind of thing I wished happened more but would probably lose its specialness if it did. And in answer to the question of its title – no, but the ringing did stick around till Tuesday.

Chris Brett Bailey’s triple bill was on at the Battersea Arts Centre on 20-21st April. For more details on his work, check out his website.


Lilith Wozniak is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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