Catherine Love: What can be done with anger? It’s a reasonable question to pose at this moment in time, as rage at the current political landscape simmers away on a daily basis, occasionally punctuated by short, sharp eruptions. But much of this ire detonates without registering a ripple, directed helplessly inwards instead of at situations that we often feel powerless to affect.
In the midst of this quiet frustration, I like to think of #TORYCORE as anger harnessed and amplified. The premise of this form-defying piece – not quite gig, not quite theatre show – is to set Tory policy to “the sound of evil”, i.e. thumping, growling death metal. As Lucy Ellinson explains, smiling grimly, it’s more honest this way. She performs the piece, screeching out budget speeches and assessment forms, accompanied by Chris Thorpe and Steve Lawson on guitar, all flanked by booming amps. And it’s loud. Very loud.
When I first saw the show over six months ago, my response to it was probably best described as visceral. It was the nearest thing to overwhelming that I’d experienced in a theatre for quite some time. The roaring sound vibrates through the room, moving audiences bodily as much as emotionally, while its political rage is furiously infectious. But I struggled, at the time, to process the whole thing intellectually. I’m curious, now that I’ve seen it a second time and have a slightly better grip on my response, whether your initial reaction to it was quite as raw? And, connected to that, how useful you think anger can be as a tool of political performance?
Dan Hutton: I don’t think anything could have prepared me for just how emotive – and emotional – #TORYCORE is. You hear the premise – that Ellinson reads out Tory Party policy to death metal – and you think “Oh, I reckon I know how that’ll pan out,” but the moment the thing begins all those feelings disappear as it gets somewhere deep inside that you didn’t quite know existed.
So yes, in a way it did leaving me feeling incredibly raw, and there are moments when the whole thing does sort of wash over you in a way which – conversely to, say, Not I – makes you feel something instinctual. Now, I don’t know whether this is down to my – our – instinctive leftishness (I’d actually be very interested to hear how a Tory Party supporter would react to this) or whether it’s something the music is doing; it’s hard to tell.
On the other hand, I don’t think I felt as bruised by it as you did, but then I do sometimes feel like I’m genetically inclined towards anger. I thus think anger is a very difficult thing to talk about; those of us who are angry feel it’s a force for good, whilst those who are calmer are suspicious of its trappings. The truth is, of course, most likely far more complex; anger can be useful and it can be distracting.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, yes, anger can be a very useful tool in political performance on the condition that the piece in question doesn’t sap out all the anger so that action itself becomes less possible. In #TORYCORE, we’re part of that collective anger, and the show itself becomes a demonstration of the things you can do to fight government policy.
Now that you’ve had six months and a second viewing, have you found it easier to intellectualise? Has your response crystallised at all?
Catherine: As you imply, I’m probably a bit less naturally predisposed to anger – or at least, I’m not very good at being angry, so I have a tendency to internalise my frustrations. Which makes #TORYCORE a powerful release; I think one of the most interesting things it does politically is simply to provide an outlet for our collective anger, to say that being angry is OK. One of the reasons to be suspicious of anger, often quite rightly, is that it hinders rational thought. But there is also a place for anger, as #TORYCORE recognises. Sometimes it’s the only rational response.
I found this most potent towards the middle of the show (I think? Time seems to do funny things when in a room with #TORYCORE), when the trio perform “a minute’s rage” in memory of Paul Reekie, who is considered to be the first cuts suicide. For sixty devastating seconds, the noise becomes almost unbearable; it’s the piercing sound of pure anger. This is not anger that requires careful expression or legitimate political alternatives. Those can come later, but perhaps what makes rage valuable as a political tool is its function as a catalyst.
I’m reminded of the text of a talk by Andy Field (which goes on to recall the minute I’ve just described): “It starts with being angry/This is always a good place to start”. #TORYCORE isn’t promising to offer any solutions – it’s just a place to start. Andy also talks about the crucial difference between “I am angry” and “we are angry”; as you suggest, it’s the collective nature of #TORYCORE’s anger that feels so galvanising.
Turning to your question, I suppose it is a little easier to intellectualise on a second viewing, though the show is still a real kick to the guts. In a sense, it resists intellectualising, because that’s not really the point. But what did strike me this time around, when the sheer impact of the piece was a little less bruising, was its grim humour. In the pauses between the seething rage, #TORYCORE often provokes laughter, be it at the sheer ridiculousness of psychometric test questions or at the queasily sycophantic tributes paid to Margaret Thatcher following her death. I’m interested in this intersection of anger and laughter and its emotional and political effects. What do you make of the glimpses of barbed comedy in the piece?
Dan: I was pretty taken by the comedy. Laughter is often seen as the inverse of rage, but actually when trawling through Tory speeches and policy or arguing with someone about the government, sometimes I do find myself giggling. Which isn’t to say I find it any less anger-inducing or abhorrent, only that in some moments laughter is all you can do. Just like when you find yourself bursting into hysterics when you get some dreadful news, so too in #TORYCORE do you sometimes find yourself hanging your head in silent – and not so silent – mirth.
Crucially, though, it never feels like satire. It’s ridicule, yes, but unlike satire it presents an alternative. Shows like Have I Got News For You used to present genuine challenges to the status quo, but now they are just as much of the political system as the House of Lords. This show, however, works outside of those parameters, and uses anger and ridicule simultaneously to say “fuck you” to the whole sodding system.
I’ve only just noticed, but I’m still sort of reeling from the whole thing. I’ll remember Cameron’s octopus quote about Thatcher and giggle to myself, but just as quickly I’ll find myself in a passionate rage. These emotions are hard to experience on your own, however, and I long to experience them again in a room full of people.
Catherine: I think that’s what will really stay with me, from both times seeing it: the connectedness of that frustration, that mirth, that unleashed rage. For all that it fiercely channels anger, there’s also something oddly reassuring about feeling that anger shared rather than silently fuming alone. A lot of the time #TORYCORE can feel like a punishing experience, but I wonder if in its creation of a shared space to unbottle this political rage there’s also a tiny hint of optimism.
Dan: I know exactly what you mean, because though #TORYCORE doesn’t explicitly say “let’s do ‘x’ to change things” or “I propose ‘x’ to have an impact”, it’s implied that this piece is one potential avenue. Towards the end of the piece, you realise that Ellinson, Thorpe and Lawson have just given an exercise in “How to channel anger into something positive”. It’s the springboard for even bigger, even angrier forms of protest.