This is a list of superlative moments within live art and theatre I’ve seen this year, written in the spirit of Owen G. Parry’s Fans Of Live Art project: I’ve recounted these moments in nerdy detail with fan-boy enthusiasm to people IRL, and I want to share them here too. If you’re as passionate about live art and theatre, I encourage you to make your own list and share it too.
Cristian Ceresoli: La Merda at The Lowry
The first time the actor broke her repugnant, tremulent vocal mask and let rip a tidal wave of textual human effulgent, I was swept away. Jens Lekman wrote a great lyric once, which goes:
“Most shy people I know are extremely boring / Either that or they are miserable from all the shit they’ve been storing.”
This woman has been storing a lot of shit; shit about her body, her family, her sexuality, her desire for fame. Watching her expel it in a storm of reverb was one of the best moments of the year, no contest.
Karen Finley: ‘Black Sheep’ from Written In Sand at Barbican (SPILL Festival)
I heard A Certain Level of Denial in the summer, and saw her reimagine a lot of this classic material at SPILL later in October but it was this piece – unfamiliar to me at the time – that resonated the most. It took just three incisive lines from someone who has lived through a plague, the violence of a negligent and discriminatory society, and lost so many friends to turn the tap fully on my own emotions. It might not sound like much fun, but fuck, it felt cathartic.
Cassils: Inextinguishable Fire at National Theatre (SPILL Festival)
I watched someone set themselves on fire, which was a spectacular and densely-layered event in itself, but it was hearing the words “You’re on fire,” from the supporting crew as the flames engulfed Cassil’s silhouette that packed the greatest punch. The language is blunt; inadequate to describe the reality of what I witnessed – the smell, the sound – but somehow, in its inadequancy and uselessness, gained power as a simple statement of fact.
Zierle & Carter: Walking The Dawn at National Theatre (SPILL Festival)
It’s hard to pick a single moment from this 3 – 4 hour action about death, memory and endurance, but watching Alexandra Zierle kick and stomp up and down the terrace with a horse’s skull at her shoulder in the wind and rain, leaning perilously over the railings several flights above the ground bags it. Heart in throat, racing like a mouse’s heart.
Forced Entertainment: The Notebook at Contact
Ow, the ending to this performance. No spoilers, but it’s gut-wrenchingly cruel and kind of beautiful in its own heartless way. In fact,the whole show is also a masterclass on how to be fascinating for over two hours with just two actors, two chairs, two notebooks and the subtlest of changing lighting states but the ending…that ending.
Ron Athey: Sebastiane at Torture Garden at Coronet Theatre
The most orgasmically satisfying moment was when the double kick-drum started pummelling away at breakneck speed, Ron pierced with scores of arrows, and bleeding and speaking in toungues. Black metal’s inate theatricality became super, super queer. I now want to watch old Charlton Heston films with thrash metal soundtracks.
El Conde De Torrefiel: Scenes For A Conversation After Viewing A Michael Henke Film at Contact (FLARE Festival)
I’ve already written about this extensively elsewhere so rather than repeat myself, just have a read of this (warning: long)
Dead Centre: Lippy at The Lowry (SICK! Festival)
It’s a knotty, complicated show, but I felt like I almost touched heaven when the last sister got to her feet, reached up in the flickering lights and, with a roar, the lighting rig descended within inches of her extended fingertip.
Lucy McCormick: Calendar Girl at Cambridge Junction (Watch Out Festival)
Again, no spoilers, but the section on UK porn laws with Evanescence and a cheese sandwich will stay with me forever. What an amazing way to say “Fuck you,” whilst giving no fucks whatsoever.
Justin Vivian Bond: Mother’s Ruin at Contact
Its almost impossible to describe anything as ‘magical’ without sounding like a nursery school teacher, but seeing a drunk cabaret crowd go absolutely silent for an even drunker cabaret star performing a beautiful rendition of St. Vincent’s Prince Johnny is worthy of the epithet, and I don’t care if you think less of me.