Thursday, February 21, 2019

Review: 'April' at VAULT Festival, 20th February 2019

Unburied reviewed by David James
Rating: 5 Stars

Carrie Marx kicks ass. Over the years I've seen her both perform in and devise a whole bunch of great theatre, from Death Ship 666 way back in 2013, the epic Cosmic Trigger and last year's incredibly cool and spooky Unburied. She has a fantastic stage presence, has a rare understanding of horror and is super into arcane countercultural philosophy. 

Reviewing April is a tricky proposition as there is a big change of mood at one point. I can't not write about it, but if you want to go in blind (which I very much recommend) just be assured that it's amazing and read the rest of the review later.

Anyway, for the most part April behaves like a comedy show, poking fun at egocentric self-help gurus and teeth-grindingly annoying positive thinking vloggers. But these laughs are the velvet sheath around a particularly jagged and nasty blade. Marx is an expert in horror, but despite laughing more during this show than I do at most comedies, April is easily the scariest show I've seen since uh, Unburied.

April would be great even if it was just what it bills itself as. Marx somehow both satirises and makes a decent case for the power of 'positive thinking', smartly weaving fuzzy mainstream self-help techniques with punk occultism. This is carried forward in her demeanour and aesthetic: the blindingly white dress, jet-black wig and beatific smile making her look half Goop aficionado and half cult leader.

Part of the show consists of the audience writing down their problems and putting them into a box, with random ones being drawn out and 'solved' by April. Somewhat predictably mine was one of the ones picked (I dunno why I keep ending up on the stage of shows I'm reviewing but hey-o), so I ended up standing opposite her gazing into her bottomless eyes. I felt like a deer staring down an 18-wheeler as she interrogated me, a process which ending with her angrily ordering me out of the room (fortunately I was allowed back in).

Then there's the jaw-dropping video sequence in which she talks about God's position on unbelievers. This is a five-minute monologue performed (as far as I could tell) without blinking in which April tells an increasingly nightmarish and surreal story about how God deals with non-believers. It contains some truly bonkers/horrible imagery that later invaded my dreams and made for a restless night's sleep.

Marx gradually transitions from poking fun at dippy YouTube personalities into a genuinely scary cult leader - which leads the show down a darkly funny path. Along the way she succinctly and accurately sets out the principles of chaos magick, which she paints as a postmodern ritualistic tool that allows individuals to bend the universe to their will. The highlight of her lesson is the initially ridiculous observation that Noel Edmonds is one of the most important mystical thinkers of the modern age and that Mr Blobby is a demon conjured by him that outgrew his master. This gets some of the biggest laughs of the show... but she's right.

But then comes the gut punch. What April is actually about is (spoilers) the subarachnoid brain haemorrhage that Marx suffered soon after I saw her in Unburied last year. This has seriously damaged her short term memory, which would be intensely frustrating for anyone, let alone a professional performer. Worse, her neurologists say there are no signs of recovery and they cannot predict whether things will ever improve for her. Seeing her talk about this as Carrie Marx rather than 'April' is absolutely devastating (to the point of the woman sat next to me beginning to weep).

The revelation throws the rest of the show into context. The 'positive thinking' that April preaches is what well-meaning people have encouraged her to do - but I know full well that you cannot simply positively think your way out of horribleness. Chaos magick is perhaps more useful, its framework of personalised ritual and symbology at least a way to zero in on what you want to achieve and how to do it. But the sense is that these are waves crashing against a granite cliff - the philosophically subjective unable to overcome the physiologically objective. And that, beyond what Marx has achieved before, is true horror.

April is one hell of a piece of theatre. That Marx devised and performs this while suffering from neurological damage is impressive in a way that word doesn't quite cover. Huge kudos must also go to her Hermetic Arts partner Chris LincĂ©, who directed and was responsible for the excellent video design. 

Right now this is my pick of the festival, and I don't see it being knocked off that perch anytime soon. I will treasure my amethyst for a long while yet and I can't wait to see what Hermetic Arts does next. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Carrie Marx kicks ass.

April is at VAULT Festival until 24th February. Tickets here.

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