Mayfest: Before Us is one of the strangest pieces of theatre you will ever see

17th May 2015


Before Us, the birthchild of Australian Stuart Bowden,  is billed as “a raucous, surreal, experimental melan-comedy about death, family and loneliness”. Created by Bowden for last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, it came about through no set plan, the only motivations being “a desire to make something new and a deadline”. 

Set in a forest, Bowden plays a female, the last of a nocturnal species, her brethren having died off to leave her under her rock utterly alone. Appearing in what appears to be a hitched-up green sleeping bag and socks, Bowden looks something like a Shakespearean jester, and is assumed to be some kind of mollusc. The audience is taken through a series of snapshots of the life of this nocturnal invertebrate, from daily woodland wanderings to sombre reflections on the loss of her friends and family.

This set-up is essentially just a foundation for Bowden to demonstrate the originality of his performing style. The green costume is integral to the act, as it emphasises Bowden’s unusual and highly amusing motions, combining the comic awkwardness of Green Wing‘s Dr Alan Statham with the creeping sensuality of Kip from Napoleon Dynamite. Mixed in with interpretive dance and mime is lo-fi music from what appears to be a toy synthesiser and miniature banjo – music which is used to bring in elements of texture, amusements and melancholy.

Unusually for an essentially comic performance, Before Us has a deep sadness at its centre, with songs from the perspective of the creature’s mother and father particular poignant and moving. There is, of course, the underlying current of species extinction, climate change and global environmental insecurity running through the show, making the audience feel almost guilty in laughing at the plight of this simple, doomed creature.

While at times Bowden struggles to maintain momentum, Before Us is a piece of funny, moving and highly textured theatre, and is easily one of the most original, strange and quirky shows that you are likely to see. Without giving too much away, it is the denouement to the Before Us which provides the most stunning treat, with Bowden turning what could be a predictable outcome into a moment of group triumphalism in which the whole audience is involved. It is a rarity indeed to leave punters singing in unison as they leave a theatre,

Conal Dougan