The End of the World. A state of mind, a song by – come on, who, who? Name that tune! It’s Skeeter Davis, a country-pop classic from 1962. You’d know it if you heard it. You’d know it even if the version you were hearing was slowed-down, then slowed-down again, and slowed-down thrice so it becomes a painful deconstruction, a dirge delivered by a murderous minx.
FK Alexander is dressed in a flouncy white organza frock. Her arms and legs are bare. She has intense eyes that look out to us with monstrous intent. She has yellow hair that she tosses away from her face as she bends over the guillotine. Yes, a guillotine. The first chop-chops, delivered in perfect percussive rhythm, jolt us out of our seats with a collective intake of breath. Why does the sun keep on shining? Why does the sea rush to shore? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? Cos you don’t love me anymore. Chop, chop, chop. Her victims – bouquets of beautiful blooms, pink and yellow roses and more – fall aside, beheaded. The heads bounce, or are pushed, off the table. Chop, chop, chop.
She stands, walks over to the centre of the stage, puts on a pair of red patent stilettos with clippity-clop steel tips, and stands again, looking out, puppet-esque in a corridor of light. Behind her, a screen flashes up words. Love, Loveless. Lovelessness. God. Godless. Godlessness. Sister, Brother, Father, Mother. There’s a smoke machine – mic’d up so that the sound of the machine’s fan becomes a drone. As she stomps her way backwards, upstage, the floor mics pick up the staccato beat of her steps, the sound augmented by varying degrees of echo effect. Her movement creates an in-the-moment musique concrete soundscape.
FK Alexander is one of a roster of contemporary performance makers for whom music, and musicality, is core to their practice. The music, the sound design, the enacting of the music, is intrinsic to the dramaturgy of the piece, not a decorative add-on.
Repetition is a key element to much of FK Alexander’s work. Take the Total Theatre Award winning (I Could Go On Singing) Somewhere Over the Rainbow, in which she sings Judy Garland’s iconic song over and over again– aided and abetted by Glasgow noise band Okishima Island Tourist Association – to one audience member at a time, whilst others witness, and yearn for her attention. Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for six hours.
But it’s not just repetition for the sake of it: the repetition in her work reminds us that nothing can actually ever be repeated. Once the moment is gone, it’s gone, replaced by another one – different in small or great ways, it doesn’t matter. It’s different.
In this new piece, Violence, we have a repetition that mirrors the structure of a pop song: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight etc. There are key changes. We return to the table and the guillotined flowers, then back to the walkway. The words reverse out their order. Lovelessness. Loveless. Love. Change is possible, they say. Things can be re-arranged. Life goes on. There are firecrackers, and a live drummer accompanying the walk, creating a crescendo of percussive and ambient sound. In the final rendition of the song, slowed down to within an inch of its life, FK Alexander’s beautiful voice synchs perfectly with Skeeter Davis’s on the recording. She has this chameleon ability to be other singers: then, Judy; now, Skeeter. But whoever she’s being, she is also – always – her own inimitable and magnificent self.
A vitally important artist, with another great show under her belt.
Featured image (top) FK Alexander: Violence. Photo by Nial Walker