Lean Upstream

Review in Issue 22-1 | Spring 2010

Jonathan Lovett sounds out a season of Chris Goode’s solo work.

Previous adventures in text and sound underscore an overdue mini-season celebrating the art of Chris Goode.

Hippo World Guest Book and the aural attack of Ursonate take starring roles in Lean Upstream – a series of performances inviting one of our more interesting practitioners to step up to the mic in a treat for Goode groupies everywhere.

Not that the unassuming, avuncular figure in front of us, cradling a mug of something hot, would ever dream of courting hero worship as he gently leads us into the world of hippo lovers, ensuring the same good-natured, egalitarian atmosphere is created that hallmarked the early days of the internet site Hippo World’s guest book. Started in 2000 and running until 2006, when it expired due to entry overdose, the site was not just a hilarious, sometimes poignant, text in its own right but a microcosm of the epic narrative that is the ‘world wide web’, quickly morphing from innocence to experience all too rapidly.

At pains to point out that he never edited the entries chosen from 400 printed-off pages of the guest book, Goode reflects the wide-eyed wonder of early entrants through his dreamy delivery, brilliantly juxtaposed by SHOUTING any words written in CAPITALS by web users, before – inevitably – the barbarians infiltrate the halcyon land of hippo, epitomised in Jade the Hippo Hater who is going to, ‘Mount all their heads on my wall and drink Scotch from their skulls’, while the last act of the show sees junk mail swamp the lovers’ landscape.

Naturally Goode had to make choices in reducing the reams of material to a one-hour show, but what impresses is his integrity as writer and performer, always reading the entry in full, even if this means reading a deluge of spam nonsense – although this does, at times turn it into a form of surreal poetry – while his loyalty to the multitude of authors ensures he is never patronising, just faintly bemused at some of the more ridiculous entries, especially when the inevitable sexual element invades the guest book.

While Goode the artist wisely takes a slight step back to ensure the stars of this show are those anonymous contributors who are never normally celebrated, the showman comes to the fore later in the week in his 40-minute wrestle with Kurt Schwitters’ controversial sound poem, Ursonate.

‘I don’t want to do it... it seemed like a really good idea at the time,’ joked Goode before launching into the extraordinary verbal challenge that, like the spam section in Hippo World, starts off seemingly chaotic and ugly – as if machines or dogs were trying to speak human but were constantly thwarted – before the repetition and rhythm of sounds transform it into a hypnotic rhapsody, thanks in no small part to Goode’s confidence and mastery of the material.

I speak for myself, of course, as the woman next to me spent most of the time shaking her head in disbelief while staring incredulously at my note-taking, while a man in front was nodding his head with eyes closed in almost religious fervour.

Such a fractured response to Schwitters’ destruction of words, in itself a Dadaist reaction to the deceitfulness of language, formed an intriguing companion piece to our unified pleasure in Hippo World, proving that – with the right voice – sounds and words can provide as much a spectacle and forum for debate in the theatre as action.

Lean Upstream was a month-long season of work (3 –29 November 2009) by Chris Goode which aimed to spotlight just a small part of what’s happening ‘upstream’ in contemporary performance work ‘whose influence gradually flows into the mainstream, shaping tomorrow’s theatrical language and performance culture’.

Hippo World Guest Book was seen at Camden People’s Theatre, 3 November 2009; Ursonate at Toynbee Studios Theatre, 7 November 2009.

Chris Goode’s new book, The History of Airports (see Books section of this magazine) was launched on 29 November 2009 at the third participating venue, Stoke Newington International Airport. www.leanupstream.info

Presenting Artists
Date Seen
  1. Nov 2009

This article in the magazine

Issue 22-1
p. 37