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This Is How We Die review at Battersea Arts Centre, London – ‘hypnotic’

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

It is a bit like being hypnotised. Christopher Brett Bailey sits at a table. One man, one microphone. That’s it. He reads from the pages in front of him, engulfing the audience in a wave of words. The text from which he reads is poetic and pulsing, neck-deep in Americana: gas stations, beehive hairdos, Kerouac, Hunter S Thompson and Burroughs, the call of the road. The text is sticky with it, literal but also nimble. Words become elasticated, pliable playthings.

At times Bailey’s performance style is like a juggernaut, a plosive onslaught. He wraps his mouth around the microphone, lips curling around consonants, sibilants stretching out like taffy.

This Is How We Die – which had an early airing at last year’s Forest Fringe and has been touring since – is both a genuflection and an abasement. Language is worshipped and pissed upon. But meaning is not entirely resisted. The text is too rich a thing for that. Words matter, however much Bailey unpicks and unpacks them.

There are some inerasable images here, the fascist father with the body bent into the shape of a swastika chief among them. And yet words are only half the story. The tongue is a weapon, Bailey intones repeatedly, before abandoning language entirely. The last 15 minutes blaze, the lights blindingly bright, noise reverberating up through our sternums. It’s a physical experience, like he’s loosed the T-rex from Jurassic Park into the room.

As a whole the production is possibly too self-aware at times, too arch, but Bailey, with his exclamation mark hair, is a never less than mesmeric presence.

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Christopher Brett Bailey takes a scythe to language in his hypnotic, poetic solo show