Three parts Lecoqian ‘Bouffon’, one part misshapen tomato and one part abrasive Patch Adams, Eric Davies’ crimson tormentor presents a very unusual self-help class. It’s a ninety minute tutorial on the ‘theatre of life’, the interplay of everyday performances though which we self-define, define ourselves to others and write our own endings, happy or unhappy. Like Lear’s Fool, Davies hopes to mock us into self-realisation, to surprise us or provoke us to seeing things a little differently.
A times the show satirises the exercises of the drama class, Davies like a preaching carbuncle as he rolls around the floor and picks out audience members with his long bony fingers. At others it becomes something gentler and more profound, and at others still it vibrates with a kind of manic unpredictability that always stays on the right side of menace.
Davies is a hypnotic physical performer, matched with a shiv-sharp wit and the ability to become more enthralling when enraged rather than turning us off with his ranting. The Bastard is at his best when he’s on the hunt, when he’s found an audience member worthy to be his quarry and clings to them with glee. There’s a timeless quality to Davies, as well a sense of total commitment to the character and the performance that makes the show particularly invigorating to take part in.
The Bastard’s wildly funny, and manages to skirt with surprising agility around moments that could become hectoring or pretentious. Without giving too much away, the show swings in its final third into more introspective territory, which is skilfully and generously handled. In many ways the biggest surprise of Red Bastard’s show is the sweetness it makes palatable with an acidic coating.
Davies has made some great claims about the power of his show in interviews, its ability to create real changes in the lives of his audiences, and it’s here that things become slightly unstuck. Each show is different, but there was a moment in the show I viewed that, though undeniably tear-jerking, also felt somewhat uncomfortable – not planned exactly, but expected. Davies is skilled at extracting honest confessions and personal details from his audience, it’s one of the powers of his bouffon persona, but the final effect is closer to the communal experience of an evangelist revival than something genuinely and mutually cathartic. Davies is careful to avoid applying real pressure to his subjects, but the compulsion to expose a juicy sore spot to be bluntly probed, paraded and applauded is nevertheless problematic.
The most exciting moments of the show appear to emerge organically, as the Bastard relentlessly pursues an unwilling audience member around the auditorium or provokes apoplexy in a weirdo by sticking his finger in his ears. It’s a masterpiece of the ridiculous. The entire experience would feel far more complete and coherent if Davies avoided pushing it so inexorably towards the sublime.
Read our interview with Eric Davis.