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Honour Bayes: The politics of performance

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As politicians warm up their vocal cords ready for party conference season, voters are feeling not only powerless but voiceless. For a theatre world determined to respond to the needs of its audience therefore, now is not the time for traditional political language - now is the time to go literally left field.

Enter Valentijn Dhaenens' searing Big Mouth - based on the oratory of politicians - which spoke up a storm at the Edinburgh Fringe, impressing none other than Polly Toynbee.

Big Mouth was indicative of an Edinburgh that wore its politics much more obliquely than your traditional David Hare play. Somehow in finding new ways to express their anger and dissatisfaction, several pieces broke through my feeling of tired resignation.

Daniel Bye’s The Price of Everything was perhaps the most straightforward in its interrogation of this government’s cuts to the arts. But beneath the stats was a direct call for community versus Thatcherite individualism. In a cheeky snub to the Iron Lady during each performance he gave out milk. It wasn’t the cuts you came away thinking about, but rather what the world could be like if we stopped letting money dictate everything we do and took care of one another.

Meanwhile Kieran Hurley was giving audiences a 1994 rave experience in Beats. Ostensibly a traditional piece of storytelling about illegal raves, Hurley’s subtle mention of the 2010 student protests at Millbank placed us sharply within contemporary questions about our right to collectively gather. Hurley was telling us about the coming-of-age of a 15 year-old boy, but really he was asking us how we felt about having our civil rights slowly taken away. Even after several failed attempts it made me want to protest again.

Others came out screaming, their anger as loud as it was furious. #TORYCORE (winners of an Arches Brick Award) was a pumped up explosion of wrath about the ideological changes the Conservatives are making under the guise of ‘austerity’.

A death metal-inspired collaboration between Lucy Ellinson, Chris Thorpe and Steve Lawson, #TORYCORE sees Ellinson morph into a metal monster, back arched, wings of fury almost visible, her distorted vocals raging above the distorted sounds as she reads out Tory policies and speeches. You can’t hear a bloody word she says but herein lies the band's power. Whilst slippery politicians have co-opted our language for their messages, this noise - that of a wounded animal roaring - pierced the festering sense of injustice within me and set me on fire.

And it’s not only the Brits. The Shit, which won the Stage Award for Acting Excellence Solo Show and an Arches Brick Award, was a fiery diatribe against Berlusconi’s Italy. The emotive monologue of a wannabe actress it was cut into three sections cheekily titled, The Thighs, The Dick and The Fame. But though full of personal stories The Shit was a shocking piece of satire that bared Italy’s corrupt soul as nakedly as it did its nude performer, the electric Silvia Gallerano.

In a world beaten into apathetic submission by the recession and a list of hapless party leaders as long as it is hopeless, these shows tap into something lost long ago in the spin of political language. They access deep reservoirs of rage at what’s happening and inspire future action. The time for dry political plays is gone, but I’ve come back to London believing that theatre can still be a force for powerful political change.


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