I remember being taken on a school trip in the late 90s to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. There was a ‘modern art’ exhibition on and I remember in particular being drawn to this one piece of art. It was just a white canvas with an intense red spot on it. And I remember thinking that this piece of art was on the tipping point between sheer genius and utter bollocks – but as I say I was still drawn to it. Going to see Christopher Brett Bailey’s Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight may invoke a similar kind of relationship to the work, and again I remain completely drawn to it.
South Wales audiences may remember Bailey’s last show This Is How We Die when it came to Chapter last year, which was, like this new piece, presented in association with Canton based Theatre Iolo. It was received exceptionally well by critics and audiences alike. While this new piece is not even nearly the same as the previous one it is most certainly drawn from the same vein. Both pieces experiment with ideas around theatricality and performance.
Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight is not the scripted masterpiece that This is How We Die is merely because it has very little spoken word in it. It does, however, choose its words very carefully – we are repeatedly told at the beginning that ‘this is a hell dream’ – so in a way we have context. Then this context crumbles quite deliberately when we are treated to a twisted stringed symphony including guitars (Bailey and George Percy), a violin (Alicia Jane Turner) and 3 “piano corpses” (all 3 performers). If this is hell, what is heaven like? Okay, I’ll concede that the music may not be to everyone’s taste but none could renounce its majesty in the room.
Before the performance the audience are given a programme sheet and a pair of earplugs and are told that most of the performance is over 100 decibels (the volume of a small plane). The audience and the space are well and truly owned by the wall of sound that hits them full in the face and vibrates the hell out of their derrières. The tension in this room was at times unbearable and sometimes you may want it to stop but it doesn’t, it keeps going and going and going. At the end, of course, the converse is true – you just want more.
If you were looking to define this piece it probably lies somewhere between a music concert and performance art – if you are looking for a well-made play, don’t bother get yourself down to the New Theatre across town. If you are up for a tense, electrifying acid attack that scares and intrigues you in equal measure but you may not know why – then this is your bag. And boy is it tense: I thought at pretty much every moment that a string from one of the instruments would snap and the ceiling may just then cave in.
I don’t really know what Bailey is presenting here, just like that ‘modern art’ piece in Dublin all those years ago. And like that piece, it hovers the line between sheer genius and utter bollocks and that is why I love it.
Runs in Chapter Arts Centre until 3rd November (http://www.chapter.org/kissing-shotgun-goodnight)