As we intrepidly await the arrival of Red Bastard, who bulges menacingly behind the curtain, slipping skinny and slippery fingers through the cracks, we are accompanied by the soundtrack of ‘Come Together’, an all-too-apt overture. The impressive physical presence of Eric Davis’ bouffon comes with an enchanting level of energy and a perfectly pitched charming attack. He soon proclaims that we ‘are all here together’ in this ‘theatre of life’ – one of the many simple and honest truths that Red Bastard exults in during this seventy minutes of eye-opening, heart-racing, breath-taking performance. I say performance as this is what we expect whenever we walk into a theatrical venue. We expect to see, to watch, to look at a performance and to absorb its qualities and inevitably judge its merits. This dark and provocative bouffon is here to challenge that convention. He stoically proclaims at one point, upon hearing a defiant moan from a woman in the audience (there a quite a few of these, actively encouraged by Red Bastard), that the artist should always be creating for others, and not for themselves, and this is what is at the heart of this piece. Red Bastard enthuses that the most amazing thing about theatre is that it is the only artform where the audience is present whilst the art is being created, where we are all together and complicit in this creation, and it is here, in this act, that we must be reminded of the audience’s importance.
Don’t be fooled into believing that you will be welcomed with open arms into this space, gently encouraged to think about your role as an audience, and cooed over with affirmations of how amazing you are. You will be kicked, slapped and poked up the rear end, but it will be the most generous kick up the rear end that you will ever receive. Some have said the approach to awakening an audience is too much, too intense, too, too… aggressive. I disagree; for me the attention that is given in this piece to the audience demonstrates a burning passion and obvious care for who this audience is and what they are looking for. The show hinges almost entirely upon audience interaction, yet the craft with which our Red Bastard alerts us to the fact that we are all also part of this piece, as well as part of life, encouraging us not to be spectators, but partakers, in every avenue of our being, is both skilful, hilarious and poetic.
Due note should be given to the intricate physicality of this performer: his slithering, undulating movement; the precise placement of the each digit and limb; and his magnificently bulbous whole body mask. The creation of this bouffon is marvellous, and it might be interesting to ponder here what role the bouffon plays in this context. Eric Davis creates an extreme, outrageous and ridiculous persona in Red Bastard, in order to provoke, to shock, to seduce? Or perhaps even to mirror? Does the audience need this monster in order to realise how extreme, outrageous and ridiculous their own lives of petty denials and self absorbed misery may be? (We are made to question our own pathetic dreams, laziness and lack of attack throughout.) Perhaps, or perhaps I am over Romanticising, but I don’t care, because Red Bastard told me to do exactly what I liked, so I will!
I can say little more other than go and see this if you can. If you don’t like audience ‘participation’ then perhaps think about giving it a miss, although I’m sure Red Bastard would say if you don’t like audience participation, then perhaps consider giving everything a miss!