Brighton Festival 2012
An intimate evening with a prolific and challenging theatre maker introducing us to over twenty years of solo performance work, beautifully held together by the performer’s experiences of creating these pieces.
What Can You Do was a retrospective of over twenty years of solo performance work by Neil Bartlett. The performance felt like an intimate gathering of people being let into the secrets that led him to be where he is today. Many of the pieces were being performed for the first time since their inception, with the last one being created especially for this performance. The sections were charmingly held together with small insights into the creation of the work and realities of the world that existed when these pieces were created.
It felt like a privilege to be at this performance, and gave a real insight and understanding into the struggles that existed for gay men particularly in the 80s. The pieces read like word poetry, sometimes kind and funny, other times attacking their audience and asking them to wake up. The overall feeling though was, look how much has changed and how far we have come, although as Bartlett states, it is not the world that has changed, it is just that the world has ‘got’ change.
Each part was well constructed, and the delivery of these still felt intimate even though he was performing to a large space. Many of the pieces involved little or no movement, however, throughout each performance he remained physically present with each movement he chose carefully considered without anything feeling staged or choreographed.
The title of the show, and that of the final piece Neil performed leads its audience to think of the future amongst an introspective retrospective of work. I found it very interesting that this new piece was the only piece in the show that didn’t have any queer connotations, but spoke more to the state of the materialistic world we live in. This felt like a departure from previous work, but obviously a progression of his interest in things that need to change in the world. Some of his previous performances essentially shouted at their intended gay audience to wake up and realise what was going on, or shouted at a mixed audience to understand, however, this new piece felt like it lacked the specifics of the old pieces and the immediacy that its title suggested. This piece was beautifully written and performed, but in the light of the other pieces did leave me with the impression that for Bartlett the big fights were over.
This was an extremely insightful and intimate performance of a prolific theatre maker’s journey through his life and the challenges that befell him, and I feel grateful that he shared these experiences with a new audience.