It is 1995. I am me, and you are Miss Norman. It is my first day of primary school, and I vomit across the floor and down my pinafore. You clean it up.
27 is a post-mortem of infant years and early adulthood, told through snapshots of speech, dance and fondling. It is sometimes exhilarating, and I think might’ve somehow really invigorated my love of this whole theatre thing. Two performers recall moments from long lists of their memories and push their bodies to extremes, exchanging blows and sweat. It’s a mix of shared cultural memories, full of songs by members of the 27 club – songs we’ve all danced to – and very personal stories.
It is 2004. I am me and you are him. I am wearing those slightly see through white PE shorts, and you are sitting beside me on a bench. You slap my thigh so hard it leaves a bruise in the shape of your hand.
They mark out a ring in leccy tape, and they cover it in fine dust. The dust settles, but they soon, through fights and through dance moves, kick it all back up again as they work out how they settled into the person they are now, just past turning 27.As they ran through the catalogue of their lives, I dredged up my own experiences and work out how they have shaped me. Through just pure association, this show broke me a little bit.
It is 2005. I lie about the regularity of my period to avoid going swimming at school.
In that way, this is theatre that works a little like music – especially those pounding songs that create the soundtrack. Songs we know conjure up the feeling of wherever we know them from, just like shouting out a year will let your mind wander back to your own life. The whole room smells like incense, too, a generic smell that carries so much weight in the heaviness and familiarity of its scent.
It is 2010. I am in my best friend’s back garden, in his shed. I am drunk for the very first time, and I laugh so hard that vodka comes out of my nose.
It’s violent, too. When they slap each other during Break on Through to the Other Side they aren’t holding back, and as they wrestle off their morphsuits their cries don’t seem fake – I even spot a little blood on McMaster’s back later in the show. It’s in the dancing (and the violence it contains) that this show becomes about more than individual identity. The dances are modern ritual, highlighting the rites of passages and routine that we are forced through and that shape us into who we are meant to be rather than who we would like to be. Even though the dancing is fun and ever so slightly on the camp side, it’s about men, and aggression, and how passed down that aggression has become.
It is 2012. I am me and you are him. You tell me that I am fat and threaten to commit suicide if I do not sleep with you. You lead me to your bedroom where we have unhappy sex. You refuse to speak to me the following morning. I collect my things and leave and cry on the walk home.
There’s probably a worry here that I’m using theatre as therapy (and a certain sense that so are the performers), but what I just felt so excited about during this show was how it was so emotionally charged. In the dancing there is joy; in the wrestling there’s a real feeling someone is going to be hurt; in the nudity there is a palpable feeling of discomfort and in the rest there is the chance to remember everything you have been.
It is 2016. I am me and you are Peter McMaster. You are naked, and I am covered in dust and the sweat of another man. You ask me if I would like to cup your balls. I agree, and so I cup your balls for a brief moment. You ask me how they are, and I tell you that they are quite warm at the minute.
It’s a proper flawed show, as well. Bits of it – the marking out the space, the end of the world scenario, the bit at the beginning insisting this is all real – pop up often enough in the sort of stuff I see that they almost feel like tropes. But there is mastery in how they manage to make you feel, and that’s what I really want from theatre. I want to be made to feel and to think. Sometimes that means I hurt, and that’s ok (gosh remember the end of People, Places and Things). Sometimes, though, it makes me feel like I am getting better: I have in the past been someone who does not want to be touched by strangers, but now I am someone who somehow will accept a invitation to fondle a stranger’s balls. Without sounding like a complete wanker, I think theatre has played a part in making me open to new stuff, less stressed by other stuff – it’s been helped along by my life outside being an audience member, too, so there’s a chance I am just viewing things differently as I change. But this is theatre as therapy, both as encouraging me to keep going and by saying it is ok to be a bit fucked up. So for all of the flaws in 27 I felt so fucking excited to sit and to realise that theatre is just fucking brilliant, isn’t it.
Battersea Arts Centre