When Christopher Brett Bailey’s ‘This is How We Die’ was announced as one of the Ovalhouse’s demolition party shows, it made complete sense to me. There is a powerful sense of pulling things apart in this unhinged performance piece, and having seen it back in 2015 when it ran at the BAC, I had a lingering memory of feeling mentally dismantled after seeing the show (and slightly high, if I’m being totally honest). This was before I even realised that it was originally commissioned by Ovalhouse, making it an all the more appropriate, ground-shaking show to farewell their current venue in Oval. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see it again, even though I knew this would be one hell of a tough show to write about.
Describing itself as “a prime slice of surrealist trash” ‘This is How We Die’ mixes spoken word poetry with brutal gonzo storytelling and dark humour to create a subversive and bizarre theatrical experience. There is nothing else quite like it. More’s the pity. From meeting the parents, to a nightmarish American road trip, via a war on isms Christopher Brett Bailey embraces the strange and isn’t afraid to provoke his audiences, taking us firmly out of the comforting arms of banal reality, into an almost hyper-realistic space. If you are open to joining him on this journey, the rewards are huge, as he is a gifted writer who weaves a vivid story. But for those who aren’t, I suspect that the whole experience may come as a bit of a shock. There is nothing vanilla about this show.
The finale remains as powerful as I remember, as our senses are overloaded to the point of discomfort. After sharing the world Christopher Brett Bailey has created, this ending forces us back into our own brains, our own thoughts and made me feel like my body was re-writing itself at an atomic level. I felt positively fluid as I walked back to the tube station after the show, as if I was occupying a world slightly out of sync with the people around me.
I am so grateful I had the opportunity to revisit this show 4 years on, although I was nervous going in. Could it live up to my memories of it? Could the experience compare a second time round? The simple answer is yes. Knowing what to expect didn’t prevent the show from surprising me anew. There is such richness to Christopher Brett Bailey’s writing that there is always something fresh to discover.
Tonight (Sat 2nd Nov) is the final chance to see ‘This is How We Die’ at the Ovalhouse. If you are free and enjoy challenging, inventive, mind-altering, fearless theatre, I’d recommend jumping on the Northern Line to Oval and experiencing this show for yourselves.