People Show: The Last Straw

‘I’m just going out to destabilise western civilization.’

‘Can you take the dog with you?’


On the floor, shredded paper, strewn like straw. A door is freestanding in the middle of the space. It’s a nice shade of grey. African parrot grey. A woman in a green jumper and yellow shoes is looking at the door. Proper parrot colours. A man in a magenta jumper and blue-grey suit comes in (not through the door). He’s put on a bit of weight lately, someone has told him. Maybe she means you were looking peaky and now you look well, says the woman. She’s moving out, he says, nodding towards the door. She’ll never get her garden furniture into that Morris Minor, he says. Or her pets, she says. At least they agree on that much. The door opens. The door slams.

News. Fake news. Gossip. Tittle-tattle. Facts. True facts. Untrue facts. Yes. No. Yes. No. Your opinion. My opinion. His opinion. Where are The Philippines, anyway? She knows what sort of bonnet Anne Boleyn wore when she was beheaded, but she’s no idea where the Philippines are. He doesn’t know either. He does, though, know how to pronounce tapenade. It’s tap-en-ah-d. Tapenade (to rhyme with marinade) she says. Tapenade. No, no  it’s tapenade. The big man is always right. Or so says the woman. You’re always telling me I’m wrong.

He tells us a story, a parable. It’s a political parable. There are the bears, and there are the squirrels. Something’s got to change, think the bears. They meet. They encourage the squirrels to take over. There is change, then social unrest, then chaos. The bears step in. They can demand whatever they want, the squirrels are desperate for someone to sort it out. Meanwhile, she is telling a different story. A story about a walk in a park and a lost African Grey parrot. There is a notice pinned to a tree with a phone number. Call this number if you see the parrot, it says. What’s the point, she says. The parrot will have flown off by then. The story has two alternate endings. Two truths. The parrot is dead on the path, birds picking over its remains. No, the birds on the path are picking over a bag of chips wrapped in newspaper, the parrot is there, high in the sky. Yesterday’s news, today’s chip wrappings…

OK, so focus now. Focus on the truth. The true truth. The known knowns, not the known unknowns. But who’s right and who’s wrong? Can two different truths co-exist? Too much information. T-escape. Have a cup of tea then escape to somewhere lovely? No, no, no. Press T-escape. On your computer. Press T-escape to get out of your multiple windows. Academic research. Shopping for shoes with kitten heels. Something or other on YouTube involving people dancing in shoestring bikinis. Everything is intertextual these days. History doesn’t exist. Past, present and future are all here and now. Polka, any one? Don’t mind if I do. Maybe she’ll have the pets put down. Strobing lights. Ultra violet. Infra red. T-escape. T-escape. T-escape…

The People Show are England’s longest running experimental theatre collective. I first saw them in 1976, and even then it was People Show number 10. Now, we’re on People Show 130: The Last Straw. Working without writers or directors, each show becomes ‘an expression of whoever and whatever arrives in the rehearsal room on day one’. In this case, the people who turned up were performers Gareth Brierley and Fiona Creese (both longterm People Show artists). They had nothing. No text, no images, no ideas. They just had their in-the-moment responses to the world they find themselves in – a world of continuous news feeds, social media, tabloid headlines, and all the rest of the stuff that bombards us all, day in, day out.

From this empty space grew the show – a show bursting with ideas, sounds, images, and words which combine to make for an electric piece of absurdist theatre; structured in a supermarket-of-style, multi-layering, and over-lapping style that reflects the too-many-Windows-open-at-once world we live in.

The two performers give their all – talking non-stop, fighting, facing off, dancing – and are very ably aided and abetted by designer Jessica Worrall, sound designer Rob Kennedy and lighting designer Nigel Edwards, who have  created a suitably multi-layered, visually stimulating, and sonically rich environment for our two protagonists to live in – a world of their own.  It’s a delight to be invited into this extraordinary, funny and disturbing alternative reality for an hour.

Postscript: Don’t worry too much about the state of the world. The Man tells us that there have been six major extinctions so far in our earth’s history, and we’re heading towards the seventh. You’re welcome.





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Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing.