She’s the last of her species and she knows she’s going to die.
Not a greatly uplifting topic for a 1-hour show, but Stuart Bowden tackles loneliness, death and complete extinction in a surreal, touching and tender way. This one-man show combines music (both live and looped), singing, audience participation and storytelling whilst promising to change your life.
I can’t say that it has definitely changed mine, but I’ve certainly never seen anything quite like it. Bowden is curiously mesmerising: a performer with great charisma, talent and killer comedic dance moves but a deliberately awkward performance style and almost anti-theatrical approach to his own show.
The key to full enjoyment is to surrender to this quirky style and accept that the man in front of you (playing a female of an unknown almost extinct species) dressed in a “little green sack” with matching socks, is in control of the ride and the quizzical atmosphere.
With a languid speaking style but precise delivery, Bowden builds the audience from giggles to full laughs without shying away from his dark subject matter. Pieces of narration are interspersed with sombre songs created using a mini Casio keyboard, his own vocals and occasionally a ukulele.
Recording himself and then harmonising with that track adds layers to the magic whilst equally stripping it back. There’s nowhere to hide in this show—no fancy effects, scenery or costume, just this one man with steamed-up glasses and a very bushy beard.
It could be described as pretentious, hipster or self-consciously arty and in a way it is all of those things yet is much more. Bowden performs with a piercing intensity and, despite its whimsical leanings, the show lacks the cynical edge that would make it trendy—there is real heart to the material, even if it is presented in a slightly experimental way.
Using a sleeping bag and insect alias as a distraction technique, Bowden uses this show to look through his bizarre lens and dissect very human fears and emotions. On a knife edge between poignancy and hilarity, Before Us is a strange but beautiful way to spend a theatrical hour.
Reviewer: Amy Yorston