Arches, 9th-10th May 2015

“You might want these,” the usher advises audience members as she hands out earplugs upon entering the performance space. Armed simply with a desk, a glass of water, a microphone and a hefty script, Christopher Brett Bailey takes his place on stage. The light snaps to a single spot, and the show begins.

THIS IS HOW WE DIE is dark and comedic with a narrative that loosely follows the writer’s character and his “kind-of girlfriend,” on a fictional road trip across America, drawing on the best of the road trip genre’s gritty history of violence and crime. Yet the narrative itself is merely used as a springboard to wander into edgy poetic prose on the triviality of words, desire for connection, and humanity’s fascination with its own end.

What begins as verging on cliché – guy grappling with existential crisis and concepts of ‘isms’ – manages to steer clear eventually. For the most part the piece successfully discusses broad themes of progress, communication and death without becoming too didactic. Yet segments at the top of the show fall into the trap of having dialogue between two characters as a tactless device to communicate the writer’s views verbatim. Thankfully the piece progresses past this as the narrative becomes increasingly surreal and ironic. Use of words are questioned, twisted, and reevaluated to a humorous extent both within the telling of the narrative and in direct pontification to the audience.

Combining rapid-fire storytelling and spoken word, Bailey commands the room with ferocious energy, wit, and bleak humor. Reading from the densely packed script in front of him, sips of well-deserved water are few, far between, and impressively worked in for comedic effect.

The most jarring aspect of the piece is the latter section, when it becomes apparent why earplugs were given. At the climax of the narrative, simply lit in silhouette by four ground lights facing the audience, Bailey gets up and walks offstage to the dark void beyond. From there music slowly builds to almost deafening proportions.

With earplugs in, the music is not simply heard but felt through rattling bones. The four musicians, including Bailey himself, hold the audience in an almost trance-like state to the end of the performance. Despite the show’s initial flirt with cliché surrounding some thematic treatment, the form and storytelling of the piece remain raw, original and energetic. It is an experience, a joy ride and overall a well-crafted performance.

[Emma Bolf]

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