Thursday, 17 March 2016

If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me – Young Vic, London

[seen 16/03/16]

If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me has possibly the best track list of any piece of British Theatre ever.

And it murders it.

You literally couldn’t hope to hear a worse versions of these songs. (Even that clip in the trailer above makes it sound a million times better than the full live godawful reality.) Nor see stagecraft more likely to make you wish you’d just stayed at home and listened to the records.

It kills all these great songs on a totally pointless stage design (a big plug and socket by Bunny Christie), under the ugliest lighting design this side of anything by Robert fucking Wilson (lighting design by regular Robert Wilson collaborator Andreas Fuchs). Director and choreographer Alleta Collins’s choreography, what there is of it, also feels ugly and pointless. When you can even be bothered to look at it. But the worst crime here is the fucking guitar playing by “Kipper”. Kipper plays guitar like a session musician; an irony-free, nuance-free, *American rock* session musician. Jane Horrocks is actually fine; but in the face of all the above, what’s “fine” going to achieve? Some of the notes are flat, but, y’know, she’s fine. There’s even a bit early on where she does some Ian Curtis dancing, and is very briefly electric. That lasts all of about two minutes.

But what an absolutely atrocious way to spend time this is. Please don’t go and see it.

What IYKM² is is one of those pieces of theatre made out of songs. Like the ones that Christoph Marthaler has been making for a zillion years. Like that Macbeth David Marton made for the Volksbühne, like that sublime Jacques Brel show by Anonymous Society – although this is, obviously, rather a lot more like their disastrous Smiths-based follow-up. So, theoretically there’s nothing to worry about here. This isn’t some radical new idea, it’s not “the gentrification of the gig”, it’s simply the worst example of this particular genre of theatre that I’ve seen.

Now, having got all those subjective value judgements (WHICH I PROMISE YOU ARE 100% FUCKING ACCURATE) off my chest, let’s have a look at what actually happens. How I’m going to do it is put the title of the track. The embedded YouTube video, and then the commentary/description.

Spoken passage from Anthrax – Gang of Four / Anthrax – Gang of Four

The concept of this show, as suggested by the blurb, etc. is that Jane Horrocks really loves these songs, and wanted to put them together and make a show out of them. The spoken passage from Leeds University Marxists Gang of Four’s ‘Anthrax’ – out of context and nearly forty years later, and audible – still makes sense on its own terms, but those terms are kind of weakened without the context of either the rest of the song, or of the times. Of course they’re still *relevant*; capitalism hasn’t changed that much, and neither has pop music. But it’s such an extreme and damning sentiment to open the show with. I mean, it machine guns half the other songs dead in the water. After all, what are the Buzzcocks doing but singing about love? (Well, quite a bit actually, but you wouldn’t guess it from this show.) So, yeah, rather than causing a big-bang with Gang of Four’s polemic, from which the other ideas of pioneering electro- and punk and whateverthefuck law-unto-themselves that The Smiths and The Fall were could spiral, this use of the extract has the effect of reducing itself and everything else to being about love. Gah.

Atrocity Exhibition – Joy Division

I think there are only dancers on for this bit. If that. The most mangled version imaginable of the song plays. It sounds like a recording. At this stage, we haven’t seen the band. I wondered if it really was a recording. I don’t think there are many contexts for post-punk music where saying “Blimey! I thought it was a recording” is a compliment. Even if it’s dinner-partyfied post-punk, it’s still a fucking insult. As is this version of ‘Atrocity Exhibition’.

Fiction Romance – Buzzcocks

Ok, so the version of ‘Anthrax’ was terrible. We can forgive a bad cover. Hell, even Gang of Four’s own reunion album didn’t really nail their material (see: a long way below). And the cover of Atrocity Exhibition’ was almost impenetrable. So this is where the sinking feeling really kicks in. The band are wheeled out. They’ve got Rat Scabies on drums! Literally! The original one from The Damned! And he’s really good to be fair. And the bassist and keyboard person are fine. Whatever. They’re musicians. But the guitarist is unforgivable.

Ok, this is probably going to be a pretty niche complaint, and if it’s the sort of thing you don’t care about, then maybe go see the show, but frankly I don’t understand how you can like the music and not care. Basically, look, if punk, and new wave, and “alternative music” had any point at all, it was that it sounded a certain way. And that sound was partly defined against all the things it wasn’t. Now, yes, absolutely fine, all the songs here from this Great Northern Alternative Music Canon will survive a new arrangement. But that’s not what this is, this is like the Buzzcocks being covered by a fucking soft rock band from L.A. I’m pretty sure “playing like a session guitarist” used to be a really specific insult. And it’s certainly the first one that came to mind tonight. This sounds like the guitar work of someone more used to recording electric guitar incidental music for car chase sequences in 1980s police series. It’s guitar playing by someone who *can play guitar really well*. Yuck. And, fuck, that guitar sound. “Polite overdrive”. FUCK OFF. Please, please, please, not that fucking guitar sound. I’d literally they rather played the whole of ‘Unknown Pleasures' as flamenco than this Joe Satriani widdly widdly bollocks.
[edit: So I Googled “Kipper” for the wikipedia entry linked earlier. He played on 90s records by Gary Numan and Sting. There you go. That’s what this guitar playing sounds like.]

Isolation – Joy Division

Still, hate the guitar sound or no, at least they used the right notes for 
Fiction Romance’. Not so much here. Which is a shame because the original tune is kind of why it’s good. Joy Division wisely elected not to have a guitar part on ‘Isolation’. Kipper decides otherwise, and Kipper played guitar for Gary Numan and Sting. What godawful smug coffee-table bullshit could go wrong?

Nag Nag Nag – Cabaret Voltaire

This is the first song they nearly don’t screw up. I mean, no, let’s be precise; listen to it above. Listen to the instrumentation. Bear in mind that pretty much nothing had ever sounded like that before that song was made, except maybe Suicide and bits of Throbbing Gristle or something. This is like a cruise ship cabaret version by comparison, but without being even slightly as interesting as that sounds. But at least in the show it
’s got a bit of drive in the moment.

What Do I Get? – Buzzcocks

Slow. Do you know those Nouvelle Vague records that they made in the 00s? They were kind of kitschy and appalling, and clearly aimed squarely at middle-class New Wavers who had grown up, moved out to the suburbs, but still had their taste in music and consequently had nothing to play at dinner parties. Also, EVERY SINGLE COFFEE SHOP IN BERLIN FOR THREE YEARS. Well, this is a bit like that, but without an ounce of the charm, wit or, ahem, jouissance. Ugh. Those dancers are probably all still on stage too, under the crappy Robert Wilson lights, looking like History Boys The Musical – or, more accurately, like a few kids from a local sixth form college’s Musical Theatre BTEC who have been told to take the piss out of the idea of ballet on the stage, but still look faintly embarrassed to be doing it in front of people. Horrocks stares at us a bit, maybe.

Empire State Human – Human League

The first song I don’t have a personal relationship with. And what’s there to say about it? Why this song? Fuck knows. But equally, why not? It’s kind of fun. It doesn’t add anything to a dramaturgy that’s been making it increasingly clear that it isn’t going to show up. It’s probably worth noting that the song, even in its original form, is so borderline-jaunty that it sounds here like they’ve accidentally added a cover from Oliver! Oh, man. I just want it to stop.

Hot on the Heels of Love – Throbbing Gristle

Throbbing Gristle, man! Thobbing fucking Gristle. I mean, admittedly, it’s like Throbbing Gristle’s most commercial record ever. It’s not like Horrocks and co. took a third of the running time out of the middle of the show to perform 
Very Friendly’– Thobbing Gristle’s twenty minute “song” about Ian Brady and Myra Hindley drinking German wine – but still, it’s nice that it’s on the playlist, which remains awesome in terms of the originals. Although what this song made me reflect was that having had Suicide down the road at the NT, what’s shocking was that hearing the recorded version in Cleansed was more potent, cool, and downright thrilling than anything happening live in front of us here. That said, Christ! Listen to it (the original). I mean, sure, on several levels they made it to annoy fans and confuse people, but also, it’s so in advance of its time. It’s subversive – a concept SORELY LACKING here – and sarcastic, but also kind of playing with the idea of “sexy” records. Obviously here it is none of those things.

My New House – The Fall

Jane Horrocks is not Mark E. Smith. Without Mark E. Smith, and with these hideous arrangements, this could be a cover of literally anything. As it turns out, it ends up sounding like it could be an off-beat re-write/cover of 
Failure by Swans. This in turn made me think about the ongoing, unmitigated failure going on in front of me. Blimey, it was stiflingly mortifying. Christ. How still the people sat. How enervated they looked. How much they cheered at the end. It did occur to me that this evening was, in many ways, more successful than the whole of punk in terms of making you hate your useless generation. If anyone’s looking to really feel some hatred for an hour, this is better than the Sleaford Mods live.

Memorabilia – Soft Cell

Oddly, probably the best version of the lot so far. Predictably the song I care least about out of the whole lot, but, y’know. I think we’re all ready to go home now, right?

I Know It’s Over – The Smiths

It’s worth remembering that, back in the day, Morrissey was quite funny, and quite wry, and quite ironic. It’s particularly worth remembering this if you’re singing one of his songs. 
I Know It’s Over’ is probably the runaway success of the evening. By which I mean: it wasn’t execrable. No. Bits of it were even ok. And, at this late stage, dramatic even! I mean, really it was much too dramatic, milked as the song was, for every last droplet of pathos and agony and without the eye-roll-to-self that stopped the original being the self-parody that people often took it for. It’s fine. Oddly, it’s also the only one of these songs I’ve seen sung live in a theatre before (by Michael Colgan in Alex Silverman’s brilliant arrangement for Anna Ledwich’s Headlong/Gate Lulu). Do I need to tell you how much better that version was?

Spoken passage from Anthrax – Gang of Four (2005 re-recording) [from 18.20]

Home strait now. This version refers to itself as “an exercise in archaeology”. But unless you were also reading the track-list, you’d think this was Horrocks claiming what IYKM² was. And I’m sure that’s the intention. Except that Gang of Four re-recording some material they were really serious about in 1978 almost thirty years later is quite interesting (not that I bought it), whereas this show runs dangerously close to conjuring the phrase “vanity project”. I’d like to believe it’s not. I’d like to hope that like, say, the Macbeth here before Christmas, everyone tried something out in good faith, but because no one said no to the fucking guitarist, it all went to shit.

Life is a Pigsty – Morrissey

I guess this is where everything dovetails, and we see that eventually even poor old Steven M. is making records that sound like unimaginative pastiches of his former glories. Life is a pigsty indeed. 


To be honest, I had a big old bunch of thinking to roll out alongside this review, since *in theory* the whole concept fits incredibly neatly with a lot of what I’ve been thinking about recently. Obviously all that’s rendered completely redundant by the fact of the show being utterly, utterly dreadful. So, yeah. Let’s leave this alone now. It’s done. No real harm done. It’s only an hour long.

But, Christ. Seriously. What a maddening, dispiriting, wasted opportunity.

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