Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone …

Two beauty queens
Two beauty queens

Nietzsche held unswervingly that the ‘health’ of a culture could be estimated in terms of the art that it produced. It’s an intriguing idea: in England, it’s not difficult to discern an extraordinarily rich and extensive manifestation of different sorts of art. If quantity were the sole criterion then culturally England would be looking pretty ‘healthy’. And there’s no doubt, too, that amongst all that quantity there’s a great deal of remarkable art – art that uses new(ish) media, art that tilts against convention, art that is ‘of the now’ and not really quite like anything that has gone before.

England’s culture looks in good shape if we use as our standard of judgement the technical excellence and rich diversity of its contemporary art. BUT the price tags sound a warning: they suggest a ‘winner-takes-all’ culture which, if nothing else, is just plain irritating.

Here’s a good example of a striking work of significant art that has a great deal to say about England’s contemporary culture: it’s a piece(s) of theatre entitled: ‘Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone‘. It’s extremely clever. The playwright Tobias Manderson-Galvin gives us ‘a suite of dystopian parables nailing the collective unease‘ of – well, just about everywhere – at least everywhere that confidently participates in late-modern or postmodern western culture.

Actually ‘Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone‘ is more than clever: it’s brilliant. In the staging of this work four astonishingly gifted actors Ayesha Tansey, Nadege Adlam, Sarah Fraser and Norma Butikofer show us England’s ‘no exit’ ‘catch 23,24,25’ culture, the culture that environs us, cages us, consumes us …

In an unremitting demolition of mediatised culture (it’s so caustic as to take your breath away), a culture from which there is no real escape, Tobias Anderson-Galvin invites us to consider social values and ways of life in the post-Nietzschean age – an age that Nietzsche himself helped to create. If cultural health is really to be estimated by the art it produces then the staging of ‘Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone‘, in virtue of its power to enhance consciousness and excite reflection on the way we live now, demonstrates that ‘we’re’ in good shape. In so doing it beautifully captures the irony that all along we’re not in such good shape.

Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone’ is wonderful disruptive drama: existentially, it shows that we’ve gone beyond the construction of schizoid (split) persons to something like multi-psyche persons. It shows how the sheer range of publicly available narratives and self-ascriptions function like a supermarket of selfhood: pick and mix; cheapo-deluxe …

It also reprises Wittgenstein’s observation that whenever we try to think we run up against the cage of language. Yet despite this we may not be quite so superglued into position. Change has to begin with some sort of diagnosis, some sort of stock-taking, and ‘Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone’ gets us going by telling it like it is. However it goes beyond mere diagnosis: it offers a cure, namely the freedom to craft our own ‘take’ on life: after all there’s a multitude of narratives on offer…

More importantly, the parables demand an intellectual response, an inquiry into how it is we have got to where we are now; each parable can be treated in exactly the way Susan Sontag suggested we treat a photograph i.e. as an invitation to consider how the world came to be the way that it is being portrayed.

Footnote: ‘Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone‘ is showing at The Vaults, near Waterloo, London from 11 – 15 February 2015. It’s ‘a resurrection of theatrical form, from music hall to post-dramatic. Equal parts celebration and desecration …’

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