Review: This Is How We Die, Battersea Arts Centre

“Sounds, letters and words – weapons of our construction”

I do prefer to be able to make up my own mind about shows but sometimes it is hard to ignore the buzz around something. Christopher Brett Bailey’s This Is How We Die was one such show when it played Ovalhouse in the summer but a limited run meant I couldn’t fit it into the diary. After playing Edinburgh, it has now returned to the capital at Battersea Arts Centre and sold out its run before even starting. So it must be good yeah? Great, even. Everyone must be right. And yet, and yet…

It is undoubtedly a unique show. Hitting the ground at 100 mph before we’re even comfortable in our seats, Bailey’ whip-sharp, lightning-fast monologue hits with full force in its opening moments and just doesn’t let up – the simple act of listening results in what must be the theatrical equivalent of rollercoaster-face. Sat in the midst of a bare stage behind a desk and reading from a script, an unstoppable torrent of words spill forth, making us laugh and recoil and puzzle and wonder.

Trying to unpick what it’s all about is almost pointless. This Is How We Die is surely designed to be felt and experienced, rather than parsed or read as a surreal piece of performance poetry or gutter philosophy. Images of sex, death and the American Dream shine through the verbal clutter, a twisted tale of a road trip slows the pace a little in the middle section, but it is the game of linguistic dare bookending it that is most compelling, ending with the declaration that language is dead.

And then. And then the thing happens, the thing that Lyn Gardner correctly points out “makes you reconsider what has gone before“.  But whilst the vast majority were overwhelmingly exhilarated by the intensity of the final segment, I was more exasperated by what felt like its indulgence. Struggling to make sense of it, I decided to read what others had thought to see if responding to that would make things easier but in all honesty, I still don’t really know how I felt about the ending, especially given how strongly I liked what had gone before. (Interestingly, it seems few can write about the show without swearing – Pringle, Love and Churlish all throw out f-bombs in their paeans – did someone say language is dead, hehe ;-))

So there you go. Turns out I couldn’t make up my mind after all and the chat around the show neither helped nor hindered in all honesty, aside from confirming that our brains are just wired differently when it comes to defining amazing theatre. One thing I will say though is Bailey is clearly a top bloke, as evidenced by his retweet of my post-show comment, he’s a better person than me!

There’s a trailer below to give you a sample of his work but it really needs to be experienced live, so I recommend going along to make up your own mind and then telling me how you felt about it. That it is sold out is but a mere inconvenience…

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 14th November, sold out but probably worth checking for returns on the night
Poster image: Julian Martinez Milla
Photo: Jemima Yong

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