Theatre review: How You Gonna Live Your Dash, Glasgow

Seeing a show being created as part of the show itself offers a different angle. Picture: Michaela Bodlovic
Seeing a show being created as part of the show itself offers a different angle. Picture: Michaela Bodlovic
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When the Pompidou Centre in Paris opened in 1977, it caused a great stir across the world’s media; its outstanding post-modern gesture – now a familiar one – was that it had all its works on the outside, pipes and ducts running all over the surface of the building like some weird set of hieroglyphics.

How You Gonna Live Your Dash | Rating: *** | Platform, Glasgow

Now a similar movement has gripped a generation of young British performers, who make work that never pretends to mimic “reality”, or to shape a narrative; and that insists on showing off its inner workings in fairly minute detail.

Jenna Watt is one of Scotland’s prime practitioners of this art; and following the success of her Fringe First-­winning 2012 show Flaneurs, she now turns her attention to the “dash” – the one that will appear on your gravestone between your birth and death dates – and what you will have done with that brief interlude on Earth.

It’s an ambitious subject, and alongside her fellow performer and deviser Ashley Smith, Watt handles it with her usual wild invention and powerful sensitivity, using images of powder gushing and moving through light to conjure up not only the dust and ashes of life, but also our efforts to blow them away, and – most crucially – those moments when they become gunpowder, blasting away old times.

Two stories are hinted at, one about George who gives up his miserable job, the other about John who gets on a plane to Sri Lanka; there are comedy exercise sequences for those who like to hold back time through physical jerks, and a playlist that reaches its climax in a slow reading of Phil Collins’s song Against All Odds, about the kind of devastating moment of change most of us try to avoid.

In the end, the show can’t avoid the look of ponderous self-absorption that haunts any durational art-form so interested in its own workings; it lasts barely an hour, and asks the audience to spend a substantial chunk of that time watching Watt (in sparkly trainers), Smith (in sparkly leggings), and stage manager Deanne Jones (in tartan culottes) painstakingly putting together the bits and bobs that create some of the show’s sound and visual effects, from a soundscape of broken breath to a final blaze of fuse wire.

Yet the show has poise, honesty and balance, too; and it offers food for thought and nourishment for the heart, in small but satisfying measures.

• Now on tour until 13 February, to Inverness, Greenock, Doncaster, Stirling and the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh