Will you still love me when my body starts to crack and leak, when my skin drops off my bones, and I break apart, piece by piece?
I have a real fear of ageing. I tweeted recently that I wanted to stay 22 forever. I’m scared of growing old and losing all my friends, of not having children, of dying alone. I am aware that my body right now is the most supple and energetic that it will ever be, and it’s still not particularly good at being either of those things. I worry about the social acceptability of parties and hard drinking when I leave my 20s, and having to give up this extreme life of high-energy-work and high-energy-socialising that I don’t know how to leave. Everything I am feels dependent on being young. I’m also aware how ridiculous and god-awful and petulant I sound, but how can I stop thinking about this when every signifier of success in the world, every mark of happiness, is somehow tied up with youth?
Ridiculusmus have made an excruciating show. It’s hilarious and very well executed, don’t get me wrong, but it makes my bones ache to watch. The copy informs me that Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! is about a couple who have been granted eternal life, but continue to age- it’s an incredibly exaggerated yet painstakingly researched piece of performance, and the performers put every cell of their bodies into their depiction of decay. The grip of their hands and the way their bodies shake have been meticulously researched and rehearsed. The free sheet lists research consultants and medical experts.
The first 10 minutes of the show see Jon Haynes and David Woods shuffle like reanimated corpses across the stage, with their backs hunched, letting out occasional squeaks whilst turning themselves slightly away from the audience. It takes them ten minutes to walk over to a chair, and a further five for Haynes to successfully sit down in it. It deliberately ribs us and plays with our frustrations towards the aged, disabled, ill, basically anyone who isn’t an able-bodied capital producer.
In many ways, the show is explicitly generous. The audience are referred to as audience members, family members and wake attendees. We are told that we are ‘lovely, talented people’ and the building we reside in ‘screams with outlandish joy’. And it really does! This is an incredibly funny show. The comedy is set up with a deliberately slow pace, the dropped cutlery, incapacitated frustration and constant glitches, but it invokes hilarity by constantly springing up with things you don’t expect. Amongst death and decay we get blowjobs (or has her head just fallen there?) instagram condolence letters, and a slurped-up Tesco crème caramel swallowed whole.
I am acutely aware that Ridiculusmus have been making theatre together for longer than I have been alive. What am I even doing, reviewing them? I worry about making art in 25 years time. I worry about applying for project grants successfully or unsuccessfully, until there is no longer an arts council and the sky has burnt. Die! Die! Die! is rooted in this precarity of existence, in the world, in the arts, and how we have to keep holding on.
Ridiculusmus got their income revoked by the arts council in the last round of NPO funding. I imagine this show is saying
‘What do we do now?’
‘We’re artists. That’s all we can be. We have to keep going.’
It takes a whole lot of strength to do that. But that doesn’t stop the whole situation- of ageing, making, grieving and feeling forgotten – from being really fucking awful. Die! Die! Die! is masterful clowning and a heartbreaking lament.
Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! is on at Battersea Arts Centre till 25th May. More info here.