Tuesday, May 28

You Are Going to Die – Southwark Playhouse

It was noteworthy that the Southwark Playhouse was fizzing with an unlikely joi de vivre for the launch of You Are Going to Die. On a Monday? For a ‘nail-biting descent into existential anxiety’? The bar was jumping with a young, up-for-it crowd, and it was mystifying and exciting to be among them. Who told them and why are they here?

As a long time supporter of the avant garde, I’ve endured excruciating boredom, genuine fear and questionable thrills, but the audience at such events always leans towards the gothy fringes of artistic society. That crowd were oddly absent and in their place were fresh faced Londoners, keen to party and free from the frosty demeanour of the serious aesthete. In attendance was Michelle Greenidge, who plays Lola, Mandy’s best friend in Diane Morgan’s BBC comedy, as was the broadcaster, Robin Ince. This. Was. An. Event.

As a consumer of queer theatre, male nudity tends to be a sporadically recurring theme. Sometimes it’s a deliberate marketing ploy, occasionally it’s erotic art and on occasion, it’s entirely justified. Adam Scott-Rowley is entirely naked for this one-man show. It was interesting to witness the bare male body as a canvas for provocation and grotesque comedy, but not for titillation. To see a man violently prise his buttocks apart and flash his anus with an aggressive, childish fury was certainly novel. It was easily as graphic as hardcore porn, but the vibes were on another planet entirely.

If I had to create a You Are Going to Die mood board, my notes would be Eraserhead by David Lynch, everything else by David Lynch, Dame Edna Everage, Nosferatu and a Blackpool cabaret show in 1979. It was like being in the company of a narcissistic circus clown who’s escaped from a psychiatric unit. For many people, this might be an infuriating nightmare, but this audience found hilarity in his impressive range of physical tics and nonsensical utterances.

At one point, while stalking the audience, he locked eyes with me. We held the stare for about 30 seconds. It was intense, combative, stressful. When Scott-Rowley finally looked away, he then cringed, his whole body curled in retreat, withering like a wounded animal. You Are Going to Die features a cast of characters, loosely linked by grief, loneliness and existential angst. It’s possible that one’s response to this disturbing glimpse at humanity is entirely dependent on personal experience of these woes. Sometimes, we’re hesitantly glimpsing through a window and occasionally, we are blinking into a mirror.

Mat Cater’s lighting design proves simple, but brilliant, creating distinct boundaries between the characters and noirish shadows that give way to showbiz staples. One of his personas is a whimpering submissive who worships a toilet. As a subject to this porcelain royalty, he pleads to ‘rim the rim’ before greedily sliding his tongue over a toilet seat. While his arousal and grateful ejaculation are symbolic, those scenes tread a fine line between awkward voyeurism and perverse exhibitionism. Perhaps it’s a comment on low self-esteem, or a bold device to create extreme discomfort. Either way, Scott-Rowley succeeds in crossing boundaries with committed gusto, which isn’t always easy in the provocative world of performance art.

The show closes with a comic torch song, lamenting his humiliating use of sex toys. The audience happily joins the chorus, cheerily singing about a dildo hanging from his arse. It’s joyous, juvenile and oddly old fashioned. The content and context were at odds with the sudden descent into what felt like a music hall singalong. Following this bizarre choral therapy, the audience leapt to their feet in a standing ovation. What had we just witnessed and what did it mean? You Are Going to Die could be a profound meditation on life or a technically brilliant piss take. Or both. One thing’s for sure, if it’s possible to explore the soul via the hole, Scott-Rowley is a champion.

You are Going to Die is at Southwark Playhouse until May 4th. https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/productions/you-are-going-to-die/

Reviewer: Stewart Who?

Reviewed: 23rd April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.