Torycore project offers noisy take on the coalition

Torycore, at the Arches as part of Behaviour. Picture: Contributed
Torycore, at the Arches as part of Behaviour. Picture: Contributed
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DESPITE the name, there’s nothing partisan about Torycore, a new work of musical theatre – and we use the term in a strongly non-traditional sense – which sells itself compellingly as “George Osborne’s budget speech performed by a death metal band”.

Those who saw it at the Forest Fringe, at London’s Gate Theatre or the Edinburgh Festival last year (where it won the Arches Brick Award) will know that it couches a nuanced reflection on the obfuscatory and often underhand codes of political language in a form that throws the words used into sharp relief.

“The music there fills the space and I put the text samples over the top, I scream and growl and splutter my way through,” explains vocalist and originator of the project Lucy Ellinson, whose speaking voice doesn’t seem capable of such aural violence. The words, she says, are a blend of Osborne’s budget speech – updated to the 2013 edition for its performance at the Arches this weekend – and what she calls “key bits of Tory propaganda”. “They (the government) use this language which seeks to hide the ideological motivations of what they’re doing, but also reveals what they’re doing at the same time. It’s really fascinating to watch. For us Torycore is about the simplicity of putting those words in this space and having people look at them for what they are, which is deceitful and motivated by a political ideology.”

But doesn’t it reduce the potency of what they’re trying to do if they sell the show as an attack on one political party when surely none in the British system can be accused of straight talking at all times? “The reason it’s Torycore is because that’s who’s in charge right now,” says Ellinson. “The privatisation of the NHS is something Tony Blair was carrying through, I make no defence of New Labour or the Labour Party. They’re all responsible, and they’re not working for the people who put them in power.”

“The Lib Dems tend not to be the voice of this,” continues bassist Steve Lawson. “It’s the Tories who have assembled the language around most of these changes, although it (Torycore) doesn’t give anyone a free pass. As a piece of theatre it’s not intended to be a complete appraisal of the political spectrum, it’s about a specific section of text and allowing people to see something in it. It’s an illuminating process, but it’s not a complete treatise on the politics of modern Britain.”

The trio behind Torycore had the idea for the show the same night they met, which was at a concert by metal band Cannibal Corpse at the HMV Institute in Birmingham in March last year. Lawson (40, originally from Berwick-Upon-Tweed), is a friend of fellow bassist Alex Webster from Cannibal Corpse, and was attending with playwright, theatremaker and later Torycore guitarist Chris Thorpe (38, from Manchester). Ellinson (35, from North Wales) was a friend who “invited herself along”.

Ellinson says she would never have attended such a gig normally, and she credits “absolutely breath-taking” support act Tryptikon as being the biggest influence of the evening. The trio hung out with the bands and eventually conceived Torycore “much later that night over a cuppa”.

“Cannibal Corpse are a gore metal band,” explains Lawson. “What they do is write the most horrific lyrics imaginable, horror film style, and they juxtapose it with music that is intended to match that, to sound as malevolent and nasty and evil as possible. So this and the budget speech seemed like a marriage made in hell. Watching politicians speak, there’s always that Orwellian element to it, where you think, ‘what do you really mean?’ So when you take it out of that context and put it in the context of a musical frame that’s meant to make evil apparent, it holds a magnifying glass up. There’s little editorialising, there isn’t much polemic within it, it’s all their words. The inherent evil, the injustice, the inequity in those words – we don’t need to add anything to make it clear.”

“We’re very deliberate in not theatricalising the experience,” says Ellinson. “The music and words do enough, and the audience can see and feel and hear their own experience. I don’t do any performing, any acting at all. The music seems to almost destroy itself, and that communicates a lot.” Asked for an example, she cites “a David Cameron quote, ‘we need to redefine the word fair’, which is something he said about a year and a half ago. When you look at Ian Duncan Smith and the changes he’s bringing in and how they affect people in reality – he’s saying, ‘this is fair’, and you can really see very clearly what they’re doing.

“There’s also a section where I read out the names of the Lords who voted in favour of the Health and Social Care bill, which was brought into effect in March 2012, and all I do is read out the list of people who voted for the bill, and then all the names of the private healthcare companies which they’re involved in either as shareholders or on the executive board or as chairmen. It’s very powerful, because the medical profession didn’t want it (the bill to pass), but it still went through because of the huge vested interests of private healthcare companies.”

As artists, do they feel themselves particularly challenged by the Government’s policies? “One of the interesting things about this project for me is that it’s brought me into a theatre world which has often to rely on funding,” says Lawson. “As a practising musician I’ve been somewhat shielded from the impact of changes, but now I’ve seen how vital funding is to theatre and the panic that’s spread as so much of it disappears. It’s baffling, because arts funding has always been a fantastic investment, it’s always made back more than has been spent on it. That’s indicative of why Torycore happened, it’s taking stupid words and shining a light on them. They’re not critiqued, these things aren’t said in a form of discussion. You don’t see politicians saying, ‘I’m going to say this and then I’m going to take questions from members of the public’. They make a statement and run away.

“That culture is one that needs challenging, it needs opposing,” he continues. “This performance is what we might call guerrilla art, it’s not a project that requires funding, it’s three of us using the resources that we have to combine art and protest. I don’t think we should have to make a case for the financial value of the arts, I think we should fund art because we’re human and we need it to make sense of things in times of trouble. That’s what we’re trying to do with Torycore.”

• Torycore is at the Glad Café, Glasgow, on Saturday as part of the Arches’ Behaviour festival.