The prolific Nottingham company Chronic Insanity recently announced details of their Home Stretch season. This refers to their bid to premiere twelve new plays in the space of twelve months – a feat they already achieved in 2020 and are now repeating. The last five plays include a live version of their earlier 24, 23, 22, an adaptation of Poe’s The Masque Of the Red Death and Directorship, a choose your own adventure launching on Christmas Day. Kicking them off though is the online and intriguingly titled Joe Drinks Wine And Gives Themsleves A Haircut. The two activities highlighted in the title were common enough experiences during the pandemic lockdowns though I’m guessing that the majority of us didn’t think about turning them into a conceptual art work.
The Joe referred to in the title is Joe Strickland, CI’s Artistic Director (whose preferred pronouns are they/them) who gives a solo performance which is part meditation, part art installation and which does exactly what it says on the tin. Strickland sits in their bathroom giving themselves the full hair and beard treatment and occasionally swigging red wine from a coffee mug. All the while we hear the voice inside their head in a stream of consciousness with thoughts about one topic triggering another in that random way we all have when engaged in a repetitive task which concentrates on ourselves. It’s a dreamy, understated experience with little sense of urgency though it becomes apparent that it is rather more artfully constructed than would first appear.
For this isn’t just randomly generated thoughts; there is a script and as this is written by a third party, Nat Henderson, we are clearly watching and listening to a construct. And if you download and take a look at the readily available text it becomes evident that the form is really that of a poem. A few lines musing on the whole notion of existence may give a better sense of how this works:
Unfathomable quantities of things all vibrating
a hothouse flower growing on a time lapse
Is that all this is? Particles?
Is a fact a fact if you don’t believe it to be
Other topics touched upon are suicide, our relationship with the internet, nature in general, oak trees in particular and pollution and there is extensive use of poetic devices such as alliteration and assonance to highlight the literary nature of the text.
This is contrasted against the visuals which concentrate on something far more mundane. Strickland starts the piece with an impressive mane and beard of Biblical proportions. As they scissor and snip their way through the next half hour, eventually turning to electric clippers to finish the job, we view them as though from their mirror – we are, in essence, the reflection of this protagonist. This is on the left of the screen. To the right there is a reverse shot of the subject’s feet, and we see the shorn locks falling to the floor. Strickland’s features begin to emerge baring their physicality as much as the accompanying words are baring their soul.
In the end it’s the sort of piece where the viewer will put his/her/their own construction on it but like much of Chronic Insanity’s work it doesn’t settle for the easy option and is challenging and thought provoking. I did wonder at one stage whether they were going to remove the lot, but they settle for a sleek new look which considering it is self-administered is pretty impressive and certainly better than I think I might have achieved. And I did feel that it seems to be making a comment about the proliferation of prosaic tasks which people film nowadays and upload onto You Tube et al in the name of entertainment. Just what is it with all those unboxing videos?