Review: Sh!t Theatre / Or What’s Left of Us (WIP) at The Front Room ★★★★★
‘Are you okay?’ ‘No.’ ‘Are you?’ ‘No.’ ‘How are we? Not good.’
Sh!t Theatre’s latest work-in-progress performance is a raw and riveting exploration on ‘a bad year’. A year grappling with grief.
Amidst a soundscape of Florence Pugh wailing in Midsommar, Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole – Sh!t Theatre’s unstoppable duo – offer us their characteristically comedic selves. Arriving costumed as forest creatures, with reindeer-esque antlers (entwined with holly berries) that adorn their heads, they describe themselves as rusty. ‘Think of us as brown water coming out of the tap. Let the depressing sludge come out first.’ Even though admittedly hungover from the night before – Louise’s debauched wedding celebrations – the two are anything but sludgy. Their rapid-fire banter is sharp. Their musical melodies are mellifluous. And their honesty is refreshing. There is a forgotten prop (a bottle of Sunny Dee rolls onto the stage just in time for a witty one-liner), but this fudge is less sludge and more slapstick. Louise receives the bottle with a chuckle and a wink. The audience are absolutely charmed by the chaos.
Or What’s Left of Us is Sh!t Theatre’s self-proclaimed ‘folk revival’, a tradition they describe as a return to folk stories, songs, and culture during times of change. It features a number of British folk songs performed by the duo – some as beautiful ballad duets, and others as raucous drinking songs with the whole room singing along. Becca and Louise tap into this folk tradition to explore the pain and grief they’ve communally experienced over the last year, with the help of everyone in the audience. They cheers to Louise’s recent wedding (dubbing the show her ‘Croydon honeymoon’), make fun of the sometimes hokey nature of folk festivals, and gleefully share their love of folk horror movies like Midsommar.
‘This is a song about death’, they often say. And so many of them involve someone called William. Apparently, most folk songs do. Together, we sing of William – the figure who haunts these tunes. And Becca and Louise’s harmonies – which interweave each other with such clear, crisp, and colourful tonality – continue to haunt us on our journey home. We couldn’t stop humming along, long after the performance ended. Sh!t Theatre succeed in striding the line between ‘twee and terrifying’, something they say they dream of achieving in their art.
On the train ride home, we couldn’t stop talking about how Or What’s Left of Us feels like an honest expression of something we’ve seen under the surface of a lot of art in the past year (and lurking behind a lot of conversations with our friends), but haven’t seen openly discussed in it until now: unapologetic grief without a loss of joy. Between a massive pandemic, an unending cost of living crisis, and seemingly ever more dystopian politics at play, the last several years have piled on a lot of sh!t. While it’s not like we don’t talk about this, it feels like we, the people around us, and a lot of art either slide all the way into a kind of doomed ‘everything-is-terrible’, or must always bring the conversation back to an ‘it’s all okay because of _______,’ or ‘things will get better soon.’ Or What’s Left of Us somehow manages to avoid either of these. It doesn’t hide or justify its pain – it lets it breathe without becoming something to hide from. But by inviting its audience in, it gives space for this grief to exist alongside the joy of a wedding and the drudgery of going to work and all the other bits of life happening at the same time.
While the show is a work in progress with no word on when or whether it will return again, we sincerely hope it will – it’s incredibly moving, and absolutely worth a (folk) revival visit.
Don’t miss Sh!t Theatre’s Sing-a-long a Muppet Christmas Carol Mini Tour this December, visiting Cambridge, Colchester, Reading & Norwich.
Mary Tooley is completing a Masters of Arts in Theatre and Performance at Queen Mary, University of London. Her research engages specifically with feminist theory, disability justice, Indigenous Autonomy, and activism and protest. As an avid artist and performer – and former student of music theatre performance at Sheridan College in Oakville – she’s devising performance pieces that aim to find majesty in the mess.
Hamish Hutchison-Poyntz is a theatre practitioner, writer and reviewer, and aspiring director/producer. He recently completed his MA in Theatre and Performance at Queen Mary, University of London, specializing in the use of games and participatory theatre to respond to the climate crisis. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, he now lives in London’s East End. Besides theatre, he loves games, spooky audiodramas, and good cats (which is to say, all cats).