Taylor McGraa reviews the one of the most evocative spoken word performances to grace South London, created by none other than past Goldsmiths student, Christopher Brett Bailey.
Christopher Brett Bailey’s This Is How We Die is a gorgeous, climatic mess of poetry and prose, which uses sensory manipulation and word play to lull you into a seventy-minute motor-mouth performance.
After playing havoc with Uber, (yet again), and almost completely missing the show, I found myself a seat at the back of an intimate audience of about eighty people. I was in the council chamber of Battersea Arts Centre. In front of the seating rake was, not a stage, but a floor, a chair and a small wooden desk, holding a microphone, a glass of water and a stack of paper.
Behind all this, was what I took a wild guess at being instruments left over from a previous band practice; a couple of violins and guitars splayed themselves over amps. I slouched there in ignorance to the fact that this was all part of the set, all part of the piece that was about to jerk me into a sensory daze.
No sooner had Bailey’s arse hit the chair had he started his unforgiving, sixty-mile an hour prose. He gave no mercy to the readiness of his audience. He was there, and he was performing, whether we liked it or not.
You would have thought that the breakneck speed at which Bailey spewed his words would be off-putting, but instead, it forces you to hang onto them, gripping onto the syllables before they skid past your ears. You want to hear him, and so you make the effort to do so. Your ears prick in full focus, your body teetering on the edge of your seat, leaning forward, as if that one millimetre would make the words that much crisper; a trance.
This trance lasted for about five minutes, before Bailey screeched, swerved, stopped his words, and made a first brutal lock of eye contact with the audience. With it, he addressed us, and reminded us of the fact that, as a collective audience right there and then, we were assuming that nobody in the room was an enemy to us. That we were in a safe, knowing environment. He also assured us that the bulge in his pocket was not a revolver. He repeated, not a revolver. He contextualised us, right as we were sitting there in front of him. What a fucking genius.
After this mind-buzz, Bailey then went on to narrate one of the most elaborately crude and hilarious stories I have ever had the pleasure of hearing, slipping in a cheeky social commentary for the benefit of us liberal-arts types. It was utterly ridiculous, and yet spoke some god damn truth. There is a certain skill in being able to use the word ‘jizzum’ in the same verse as a discussion on the policing of political terminology – a skill that has Bailey has perfected.
Being thrown from verse to prose to poetics, Bailey not only used fluctuating volume and tone to toy with our senses, but also incorporated lighting in the most brilliant of ways. I knew that it was clever, because it was subtle. The use of lighting in the performance is, to being with, barley apparent. Then all of a sudden you realise you can’t see a thing and, you are wondering where that music is coming from and, is it live? Who’s playing it? How many amps? Is that the bass you can feel vibrating in your chest? And now you can’t see, not because it’s dark but because you are fucking blinded. Blinded by lights. And you’re rocked in to a climax of ears and eyes and sheer, menacing chaos.
Christopher Brett Bailey has formed and refined this white-knuckle monologue into a piece that leaves you feeling and thinking hours after you have left your seat. An innovative serving of spoken word, and a forefront to new theatre.
For a peek at this piece, click here.
Photograph by Taylor McGraa