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Megan Vaughan: I spent June seeing the same show over and over again

Christopher Brett Bailey, This is How We Die, Battersea Arts Centre. Photo: Claire Haigh Christopher Brett Bailey in This is How We Die at Battersea Arts Centre in 2015. Photo: Claire Haigh
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So I have a column now. It’s going to be monthly, and it’s going to be about experimental performance, live art encounters, small-scale shows about big ideas, all that shizz. This is the first one.

On sitting down to write it, I have three thoughts:

1. Cold, creeping dread

This is a massive life commitment. A column every single month. Every single month. What if one month I have literally no thoughts?

2. This is a terrible time to start a new column

I’ve basically just spent the whole of June going to see my favourite show ever, This Is How We Die by Christopher Brett Bailey, over and over again.

3. Why am I even bothering?

I mean, does the world need another column about theatre? This is for The Stage. We’re not exactly short of opinions round here. Should I actually be writing this for Buzzfeed instead? Will the performance community really benefit from another jumped-up blogger picking favourites and cracking bad jokes about their complex and highly personal works of art? And is the weirder stuff even going unrecognised anymore? Tim Crouch is at the National; Chris Goode heads back to the Royal Court soon; even the Almeida has despatched the previous regime’s summertime ghettoisation of the weird and incorporated Gaggle and Dickie Beau into its Greeks season.

Is the battle over? Have we won?

No. The news that the Harry Potter franchise is heading to the West End has punctured my existential crisis at its very peak. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in plurality. I understand the value of the West End, the importance of quality drama, even the economic benefit of whatever luxury corporate pop-up Punchdrunk is currently working on (just about), but if there isn’t also a space in The Stage to champion the DIY, the low budget, the outlier, the pioneer, the brilliant weirdo and the batshit idea, then we fail collectively.

What you’ll find here: brilliant weirdos and batshit ideas

So that’s what you’ll find here: brilliant weirdos and batshit ideas. A look back over the best of the preceding month and a look forward to what’s coming next. I hope it won’t be too London-centric, too white, or too male. I hope it will encourage audiences to buy the odd ticket, and encourage funders to smile warmly on whatever these madcap arty bastards want to try next. As I stare out of the window and hear Icelandic post-rock swell to an emotive climax, I raise my fist to the heavens and hope it will be a genuine force for good.

June has been a good month, largely thanks to Incoming Festival from A Younger Theatre and New Diorama, and the closing weeks of Now 15 at The Yard. I’ve loved new work from Spanish company Atres Bandes, absorbed the inescapable ennui of youth with a work-in-progress from Barrel Organ, got off to future superstar Seiriol Davies’s cod-Russian phone sex murmurings in a surrealist nursing home request show from the Conker Group, and finally lost my fig-ginity with Figs In Wigs, who are everything I’d hoped Lady Gaga would one day become (and still do, tbh).

The thing I really want to tell you about though – really, urgently, forcefully, have to tell you about – is Swagga from Project O.

Swagga has such a brilliant origin story: Back in 2013, therapist, academic and self-proclaimed “fat dyke” Charlotte Cooper saw a dance performance by Project O that made her wish she could feel the freedom and empowerment that she saw on the stage that night: “It was like watching two women speak a language that I would also like to speak.”

Swagga's Project O. Photo: Guido Mencari
Swagga’s Project O. Photo: Guido Mencari

In a totally killer blog post, she articulated the sadness that now accompanies her memories of early nights out, of physical inhibition and movement now lost. Then Alexandrina and Jamila from Project O found her blog, sent her an email, and began a year of workshops with Cooper and her partner, Kay Hyatt, choreographing them in the dances that would become Swagga. And swagger they do. Their aggression is manifest. Backed sporadically by all-female post-punk band Trash Kit, they roll on the floor, scream in our faces, take their tops off, stomp and wiggle. Then just when everyone’s a little bit frightened, they sing a lullaby in a spotlight about how they are magnificent. And boy, are they magnificent. Since I saw the show I’ve had to suppress the urge to do high kicks in supermarkets, shake my own wobbly thighs in the blank faces of tube commuters, just shout a little louder, y’know?

I’m not sure what’s next for Swagga, but Project O have Edinburgh dates with the show that kicked it all off, just called O (I like to think it stands for orgasm – please don’t put me right if it doesn’t). They’re at Forest Fringe from August 24-28, where it’s also part of the British Council Showcase.

But I’m getting ahead of myself already. As the ancient proverb goes, before August must come July, and this is what I think you should feed into your eyes, ears (and other sensory organs) this month…

The Privileged. Photo: Tara Yarahmadi
The Privileged. Photo: Tara Yarahmadi

Flare Festival is on in Manchester from July 13-18 and has some amazing work in the programme. You should take a punt on some of the lesser known bits and pieces from international artists (J.U.D.I.T.H. is a student piece from Germany about dancing chickens and ‘dildosaurs’, apparently) but I can personally vouch for Actress by Sleepwalk Collective and The Privileged by Jamal Harewood. Harewood’s piece, in particular, is vital. Never before have I been challenged by a performance the way I was challenged by The Privileged. Do not miss.

In London, The Yard has hooked up with Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for a short season of ‘walkie-talkies’ but we won’t have a go at that dreadful name here because they’ve programmed some absolute beauts – all close encounters, intimate moments, and unusual spaces. Symphony is a new piece for voice and tuning forks by Verity Standen, Ellie Harrison is taking MPs and constituents round the park on a seven-seater bicycle in This Is What Democracy Looks Like, and Greg Wohead’s momentous rooftop experience for one, Hurtling, returns to London after recent appearances in Preston and Bristol. I first ‘hurtled’ in 2013 and, frankly, I’m not sure I’m over it yet. You’ll feel like the whole of time itself can balance on the end of your little finger.

Right, that’s all for now. See you next month. In the meantime, just gimme a shout on Twitter if you have any hints or tips on being a force for good in a cold, lonely world.

Actually, that reminds me. I began all this by telling you that Christopher Brett Bailey’s This Is How We Die is my favourite piece of live performance ever. If there’s one thing I can achieve this month, perhaps it should be to readjust the star rating on Natasha Tripney’s otherwise thoughtful and quite skilfully lyrical review of this flawless masterpiece. She gave it four stars. So, here you go Christopher Brett Bailey, have another star.

Megan Vaughan blogs at Synonyms for Churlish and is @churlishmeg on Twitter

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