Wilting in Reverse | Stuart Bowden

Another theatre response for They Eat Culture – enjoy!

Stuart Bowden | Wilting in Reverse | The Continental, Preston | 11th May 2016

I walk out into the cool of the evening and roll a cigarette. I can feel my breath hitching in my throat. I want to call someone, anyone, just to hear another voice. I want to be held forever.


The year is 2085 and Stuart Bowden is dead. Onstage is a man who will perform the story of Stuart Bowden’s final years. And we – the audience – will play the part of his friends. In the story, we live on a planet that we have colonised, and we’re running out of water. Stuart Bowden is going back to earth to get a rescue mission together.

I suppose that could be the premise for the show, but it wasn’t just that. It was slapstick, movement, music, storytelling, tragic, introspective, retrospective… I’m just going to tell you how I experienced it.

Bowden is a beautiful performer. He is completely aware of his own body on the stage, how the slightest movement can set the audience giggling. He’s all over the place in a precisely choreographed way. And he’s at the top of his game; his energy is brilliant. You could tell he loved being up there – and he should, he’s bloody good at it – and therefore we loved him being up there too. It’s a testament to his performance that I was willing to be one of the audience participants. I hate doing audience participation. But with this I was more than happy to get up and get involved. I trusted him as a performer. Which is a pretty big thing, I think.

One of the best aspects of the show for me was the music. Music does something special. The music Bowden created was simple and stunning, using a looping pedal, some instruments and the incredible range of his voice.  It hit that place between your heart and your lungs and created that bubble of feeling that makes you want to smile and cry at the same time. There was a point in the story where the woman Stuart Bowden loved went missing. We go to her cabin and she’s just gone. And we were laughing a second before, I swear, but at that point there’s music, and the lyrics… If you die first, I’ll be alone // Who will I talk to after you’re gone? Talking to Stuart after the show, he said that music makes him vulnerable as a performer. I can say it does the exact same for the audience.

It’s amazing to think that a man in leggings – who first appeared onstage in a duvet cover with eyeholes cut out, who wore a green ski mask with his moustache poking through – could make you seriously consider your own mortality. But he did. One moment I’m laughing, the next I’m thinking about what I’ll leave behind when I’m gone. And the moment after that I’m the one wearing a duvet and dancing about onstage like Kate Bush trying to make her bed.

A lot of the time, theatre pieces make you consider the bigger picture. They ask you to think about what things would be like if you were someone different or somewhere different. Wilting in Reverse was all about you. About the individual people in that audience. It made me consider… well, me, I guess. It made me laugh and it damn near made me cry. It is a piece that cups your chin in its hands, looks directly into your eyes and says “what about you?”

I can’t really tell you what this show was about. I’m not critiquing it. I suppose the only thing for you to do would be to go and see it as soon as you can. Mark a place in your diary for a good laugh and an existential crisis. Find the time. It’s definitely worth it.

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