As I am sure I have mentioned many times before, I am always looking for something to do of an evening to get me out of the house and out of my own head, filled as it perpetually is with the white noise of day-to-day bothers. And so this evening I took a trip to the Royal Exchange’s Swan Street Studios to see a piece by performance artist Josh Coates.
Now, I have written about Josh’s work before – in Rot and Nonsense – but not just because he’s a mate. It’s largely because he makes good theatre. Particles is a piece he has been developing for almost two years now, and the many ways it has evolved could be used to chart his growth as a writer and performer. Tonight was the first time I’ve seen him on stage as a performer first, and then a friend. Let me explain.
In Particles, Josh tells and retells a perfectly mundane situation. A man is woken up by his phone ringing. He ignores it. He tries to answer and misses the call. He answers it and puts the phone down. He answers it and completes a conversation. And surrounding this series of everyday actions are stories from everywhere else, about everything else. It goes back to the possible origins of a universe, to the regeneration of seaside towns, to riots and carnivals and the apocalypse and risotto and earthquakes and Eddie Stobart and… the list goes on. This piece is about how decisions make and shape the world around us, about the infinite scope of human potential, about how some things can’t change and some things we have to change for ourselves. It is a big piece. And the way I’ve decribed it sounds like just a torrent of words, but the lyricism of Coates’ writing cannot be ignored. It is a piece you can’t help but listen to.
The delivery is pitched just right for a piece of this weight. He combines storytelling with audience interaction (but not in a squirmingly awkward way, like some interactions can be), so you feel completely involved with everything he is telling you. It is a conversation. There is no line between the performer and the audience, and it works, it just works. There is a energy behind his words and actions that, by the end of the piece, explodes onto the stage like a firework in skinny jeans and doc martens.
Above everything else, this piece is a rallying cry. It looks at things falling apart and asks – no, it challenges us to do something about it. Someone described it tonight as an optimistic view of how futile things are, but I disagree. It is optimistic, but it is realistic as well. Particles tells us that some things may be out of our hands, but the power we have in our hands is limitless if we only have the drive to use it. Particles tells us that yes, some things are really quite shit, and that’s just the way it is, but it is not the way things have to be. Particles is a boot up the backside of apathy.
Josh Coates is kicking off this year’s Sprint Festival down in London at Camden People’s Theatre on Friday. It’s a show not to be missed. And I don’t say that just because he’s my mate and I feel obliged to, but because this is the kind of conversation people should be having. And it is a perfect way to start doing something, anything, to make a difference. And if you can’t get down to London town, then please spread the word.
You can follow Josh’s antics by following him on Twitter @J_JCoates – get it sorted, and get your tickets booked!