Reviews Edinburgh Published 11 August 2014

This is How We Die

Forest Fringe ⋄ Until 10th August 2014

Furious words.

Stewart Pringle

Chris Brett Bailey is here to fuck you up, and fuck you up fast. When the lights flick on he’s already coming at you faster than you could possibly move out of the way, like you’ve crossed the road and looked left left left and been blindsided from the right. Bailey possesses a motor mouth in a literal sense (he likes literal), it builds to impossible speed, changes up a gear and then whirrs on faster, harder. He moves like someone’s recast Beetlejuice as Steve Buscemi, and he looks like the dude from Eraserhead. And like Lynch’s electro-quiffed hero, the world he moves through in his strange, wild narrative twists around him, until it’s unclear if he’s the cause, the symptom or merely a mirror for something rotten deep down in the centre of things.

Part stand-up routine, part performance poem, Bailey sits at a desk in front of a microphone, reading from the stack of papers in front of him. If gonzo journalism ever needed a news anchor, this would be the guy. But though his language and rhythms owe a debt to the drawl of Hunter S Thompson or the ecstasies of Allen Ginsberg, what hurtles out of Bailey’s mouth is its own strange beast. It’s a compulsive persona, charming but repellent, a bug-eyed vampire who pauses to swish saliva around his mouth forcing sickly clicks down the microphone.

Like William Burroughs before him, Bailey’s subjects are sex, death and language, which he twists together over an obscene road trip across an American desert. Again, like Burroughs, language here turns feral, the figurative becoming actual in the most grotesque combinations. The good old pull back and reveal technique is put to horrendous use in Bailey’s description of a visit to his girlfriend’s family, where her ‘walking swastika’ of a father is revealed to be more than just a right-wing nutjob. Commonplace turns of phrase turn on their users; similes bare their fangs and sink them in hard.

Again and again the violence inherent in everyday language tears into the physical world, as brains are smashed against the windscreen of high speed trains, heads are ripped off bodies and the human form twisted, toyed with and debased as easily as breathing a word. It takes major themes of 20th century art from the surrealists, through the Beats, to Lynch, Cronenberg and Genesis P-Orridge, and extends them in ingenious ways, hiding its impressive referential scope under a bushel of cruel wit and bodily fluids. A roadside confrontation with a priest directly references the desecrations of Bataille’s Story of the Eye, positioning Bailey’s own defiant rant within that same interface between sex and death in which Bataille located the erotic.

Like the libertines of Eye, Bailey and his girlfriend are travelling in only one direction – towards sensation and freedom, away from stultification and death. The opening salvo of furious words just beyond comprehension blasts the hypocrisies of contemporary culture, and for all the filth and the fury of the journey, there’s consolation and catharsis there too.

Where Burroughs’ cut-up trilogy, his great attempt at an anti-book that would obliterate its own medium, was doomed to failure, the final moments of Bailey’s show perform a stunning realisation. As words themselves are abandoned in the dust-cloud of Bailey’s narrative, a rumbling post-rock crescendo provides an exultant, life-affirming conclusion. It’s like absolute horror and total acceptance colliding – letting go of the world with a shuddering gasp as you’re forcefully, gloriously buried alive.


Stewart Pringle

Writer of this and that and critic for here and there. Artistic director of the Old Red Lion Theatre.

This is How We Die Show Info

Written by Christopher Brett Bailey

Cast includes Christopher Brett Bailey




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