RONI MEVROACH reviews I Could Go on Singing at the Southbank Centre.
This performance doesn’t leave you certain about many things, but one thing is for sure – it is very well-titled. FK Alexander really does go on, and on, and on singing.
The show celebrates the legacy of Judy Garland, with a reference to her 1963 film in the title. Indeed, it is essentially one hour of Alexander performing ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ alongside the final recording of Garland singing it in 1969, just four months before her death. It is a weird, bizarre experience and the repetitive nature of the performance makes it almost hypnotic – you are transported to an alternate universe.
FK Alexander is a Glaswegian performance artist, who is known for her work about wounds, recovery, aggressive healing, radical wellness, industrialisation and noise music. She is accompanied in this performance by Okishima Island Tourist Association, a noise music band. Two figures stand ominously on a platform, with black sunglasses and black suits, raising their hands slowly and purposefully every time there is a music or lighting change. This provides an eerie, and slightly confusing effect, but perhaps this is the intention. The audience is not supposed to understand why such choices have been made, we just have to let this darkness sweep us away.
Alexander herself also wears all black, adding a Judy Garland-esque sparkly blazer and reapplying red lipstick every time she is about to start the song again. This creates a ritualistic effect and adds to the strangeness of the unsettling atmosphere. It does also make it seem as though each rendition of the song is as important as the last: each one deserves a new application of lipstick.
The performance space is very intimate, as the small audience all sit on stage with Alexander, looking out onto the empty seats behind her. There are a limited number of chairs available, so much of the audience must sit on the floor – an uncomfortable performance in every sense of the word! The noise music by Okishima Tourist Association produces, which plays over ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ relentlessly throughout the whole hour, is incredibly loud and the headache-inducing strobe lighting isn’t light work either. Before the performance, the audience is offered earplugs and notified of a green room area that is available if the performance gets ‘too much.’ The discomfort of the whole situation is one of the best things about the performance though, as it creates this intimacy and bizarreness that I think Alexander intends.
The audience is also invited to go up and stand on a white ‘x’ in the middle of the stage if they want to have the song sung to them while holding Alexander’s hand. This is an incredibly unique experience as eye contact is not broken for about 3 minutes, and you receive a kiss on the cheek and a ‘thank you’ at the end. After watching an interview with Alexander, I learned that the purpose of this is to give her audience members three minutes of undivided attention, a rarity in our fast-paced world. This is a wonderful idea but there are about 50 audience members and only 60 minutes of performance time, so not everyone gets to experience this, and some members of the audience are too nervous. If you choose not to go up, or if time runs out, then you are simply watching the same thing again and again and again. In fact, some of the audience left during the performance I saw because it is such a difficult thing to comprehend. But most stayed, wondering if something was going to happen; if something was going to change. But nothing does change. Perhaps this is a criticism of our entertainment-fuelled, change-seeking society. And perhaps we should not wonder what the meaning behind it all is. We simply have to accept it.
In the final minute of the performance, there is a huge crescendo of noise, and the strobe lighting goes wild. Then, silence and nothingness. You leave baffled, with your ears pounding, your eyes shocked, staring at the 20 lipstick-stained individuals who got to experience something very different from you. You hear hums of ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ as you head out onto the South bank. This is not a performance that is easy to leave behind and the song will definitely be stuck in my head for days, if not weeks.
‘I could go on singing’ ran from the 24th of February to the 26th of February at the Southbank Centre, more details here.
Featured image courtesy of Jannica Honey.