Are You List(en)ing? X Top Performances Of 2014

Lists: they’re easy to write, easy to digest and even easier to forget, so are the perfect fodder for a blogger in search of something – anything – to say. We’re also rapidly approaching the end of one big unit of time and about to start another, so people are more reflective than usual and just want a sense of closure, please. Put these two phenomena together and you get the ubiquitous END OF YEAR list.

‘List’ can also refer to a ship leaning to one side, which is a bit like bias: the very thing an end of year list can reveal if you’re not too careful. My bias is the following: if it involved some kind of fluid flying out of or into an orifice, I more than likely had a whale of a time. Why? I don’t know; I just like to see people having a good time.

I’m not going to write a list. The avant-garde may be dead but I know what I stand in opposition to. I’m a paragraph man, and I like my paragraphs substantial. Oh, you do too? Then read on, my friend! As for the rest of you, quit while you’re ahead and get your opinions in Chicken McNugget-sized pieces elsewhere.

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CHRISTEENE

This blog looks at ‘performances’ rather than focusing on theatre or live art, mostly because I wanted to include Christeene at Bummer Camp, Islington Mill in my anti-list. She’s an artist who marries live music with character-based performance, and also fits my bodily-fluid bias. Her take on drag has been dragged backwards through the bushes by raging baby ponies to deliver a body-positive message of sex, love and ultimately, humanity. In contrast to the schools of drag which aspire to flawlessness, Christeene surrenders herself to the filth and imperfection that’s common to us all, wearing it as armour in her crusade against homogenisation within and without queer communities everywhere. She writes great music, too.

Islington Mill was also the setting for Melt Banana at FAT OUT FEST, and my first moshpit in ten years. Islington Mill has the unique quality of becoming a furnace when more than five people move animatedly in it at one time, so my abiding memories of the night are euphoric industrial pop noise, taking my t-shirt off in the first five minutes, panting like a dog for the rest of the set and trudging home in sopping wet denim: 5 STARS! Here’s hoping they don’t lose their live music licence in 2015 because of their crotchety neighbours.

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F K Alexander

I got a bit damp at Beacons Festival too, but this was on account of the weather rather than F K Alexander, who doused the audience with gob-fuls of water during her set in Steakhouse Live’s ‘Divine Intervention’ takeover. Appearing in a funny / intimidating costume pastiche of all things Scots-cliche, F K proceeded to demolish Big Country’s ‘In A Big Country’ like a scowling, ginger-wigged seraphim, armed with a ground-levelling monotone and brandishing a megaphone. Who needs twelve notes when one works just fine?

Festivals were a big part of my life this year, most notably Flying Solo at Contact and SPILL at Ipswich, which were home to lots of fantastic performances from the likes of Victoria Melody, Greg Wohead, Rachel Mars, Ron Athey, Katy Baird and many more. Of all these performances, I feel special mention should go to Peter McMaster‘s elegant and sophisticated ‘Wuthering Heights’, which interweaved the all male company’s autobiographies amongst scenes from Bronte’s classic novel. The result was a moving theatrical exploration of masculinity and identity, flirting with flamboyance and baring emotional wounds, with the climax coming during a devastating recreation of Cathy and Heathcliff’s parting scene. The tears almost flowed for me at Akram Khan‘s magnificent DESH at The Lowry too; a stately, virtuoso performance that almost literally brought the house down thanks to some impressive staging. However, I have a one public display of emotion per year quota, and Peter McMaster beat Akram to it. Better luck next time, Akram.

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MOUSE

There was no shortage of watery emissions from Mouse at the SPILL closing party, which I managed to dodge by taking up a comfy seat and watching the live feed in another room (those at the front will likely have been glad of the complimentary umbrellas). As I say, I like to watch people having a good time, whether or not that ‘good time’ means unfurling 10 foot of bunting from between their legs.

Not long after that, time became gooey and elastic in Forced Entertainment‘s  24 hour long version of Quizoola at The Millennium Gallery in Sheffield. Armed with cookies and coffee for a live art sleepover, I alternated between watching six performers take it in turns to ask and answer questions about everything from why women wear hats at weddings to who they think is going to die first; and napping in the breakout room. There were also times when I trod the liminal boundaries of sleep and wakefulness, and watched a peculiar dreamlike version of the show in my head, and others I spent just drinking in the collective atmosphere of commitment to see the show through to the end. I had to bow out halfway through the proceedings, but the sense of having been stuck in a post-apocalyptic underground bunker where there is nothing to do but speculate on a long abandoned outside world stuck with me long afterwards. The live stream allowed me to catch the closing half hour from the comfort of my own bed: bonus!

Which more or less brings me to here, sat here on the sofa at my parent’s house in the Midlands, tapping away and wondering what kind of loud, lachrymose and messy performances I might see in 2015. I’m already looking forward to performances from Rosana Cade, Brian Lobel, Lucy Hutson and Tom Marshman, so check back in 365 days to find out what other shows left an impression on me in 2015. I might even write a list.

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