Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas begins famously with, ‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.’ Christopher Brett Bailey’s This Is How We Die seems to carry on from where Thompson left off in this brilliant piece of spoken word black comedy theatre that will shudder you to your very core, and then shudder your core’s core, and then your core’s core core (if that’s even a thing, if it is then this play will find it and shudder it).
Bailey seems to appear on stage out of nowhere, he nods politely to the audience before sitting down at a desk which houses a microphone, a glass of water, a lamp, and Bailey’s script. Then an explosion occurs, an explosion of words that is. Bailey uses the microphone like a drum that he thumps and thumps with words that bounce off the microphone and splatter into the faces of the audience before punching their way into their souls. Through sheer physicality of his lips, tongue, and his bobbing head, Bailey brings his prose to life as spit flies, sweat flies, and emotions whiz. Reading mostly from his script, Bailey keeps his eyes down away from the audience, creating a distance, before carefully choosing his moments to eyeball the onlookers in order to land a joke or an emotional punch.
If you’re the romantic sort and wished you could’ve been there so see Allen Ginsberg read “Howl” in 1955, see Charles Bukowski read live in California, go back to the fifties to see Lenny Bruce perform his “Meaning of Obscenity” or “Religions Inc” bits, or have the desire to see William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch come to life before your eyes then this is the show for you. The musicality of Bailey’s almost word perfect performance conjures images of contemporary rap, but also the music of Tom Waits, in particular his song “Step Right Up”, but as if Waits’ music had been sucked into a David Cronenberg film and come out looking like the love child of David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Samuel Beckett’s Not I.
This Is How We Die is almost impossible to process, but maybe that’s its purpose, we will be forever trying to process it, forever trying to get to grips with it, maybe that is what makes it art. It deals mainly with the void and the space in between Bailey and the audience, after the performance Bailey took part in an impromptu Q&A session which in its formal reality seemed fake, there was an ugly space between him and the audience asking the questions, yet his performance on stage with all its fantastical absurdities seemed utterly real and utterly truthful.
This Is How We Die takes us into the blackness (both emotionally and literally via some genius lighting cues), engulfing us in the darkness of humanity. It is truly a battering of the senses where emotions pour out uncontrollably. With the final and resounding emotion being that of sheer amazement.
THIS IS HOW WE DIE
At Chapter Arts Centre – June 23rd at 7:30
Written and performed by Christopher Brett Bailey
Musicians: George Percy, Alicia Jane Turner, Christopher Brett Bailey, and Apollo
Dramaturg: Anne Rieger
Lighting Design: Sherry Coenen
Production Manager: Alex Fernandes
Producer: Beckie Darlington