Review: Adventures in Dementia

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Adventures In Dementia is a collaboration between the ex-Auters frontman Luke Haines and artist Scott King which tells the fictionalised story of Skrewdriver’s lead singer crashing his car into the back of Mark E Smith’s caravan – with actors playing both parts, and is being performed as part of King’s Festival Of Stuff on July 10 and 11 as part of the annual Foreign Affairs festival in Berlin. The festival, which takes place at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, features live music, actors and visuals, as well as contributions from Russell Haswell and artist Jeremy Deller.’

As I was unable to be in Berlin earlier this month and in fact did not know about this 20-minute ‘mini-opera’ until today I shall have to base my review of the proceedings on nothing more substantial than the gossamer threads of my imaginings, which I have been led to believe have every bit of weight as true facts in this internet age. Those who object may take it up with the management by means of written outrages on the back of postage stamps mailed to the Outer Hebrides.

After the jolly fun of the previous entertainments the mood of the crowd suddenly turned more serious as the lights came down to signal the beginning of the rock opera, as is only right. One oblivious audience member, who continued chatting away to a friend who was live tweeting the event for him in Tokyo, was first hissed at then finally suppressed (in the traditional Carrollian manner). When that proved insufficient for this hardened scofflaw, the surrounding crowd tore his flesh to bits and consumed it meditatively as the mini-opera commenced.

A hint of orange light sparked on the horizon of the stage, reminding the viewers perhaps of the burning of Atlanta sequence from Gone with the Wind or the horrible conflagration of Grave of the Fireflies. But this was only a hint as action turned to the Fall leader took his leave of the band in order to seek the quiet of a country place in his caravan. The chaffing humour of the farewell song sent a ripple of laughter across the enrapt audience, although a few discordant notes hinted at the tragedy which lay ahead.

Somehow the key of F suggests the peace inherent in the caravan’s idyllic location, though suggested by a bare set of potted plants, the attendant soundscape rendered an England as green as any Blakean Jerusalem and gave those present a honeyed taste of that lost paradise, the return of which we may ever hope. The character of MES seemed to blossom in that paradise, singing with regret of the harsh conditions in which he kept his band working (indeed, he had locked them in pantry cupboard prior to taking off with the caravan, worried that they might fall afoul of Radio 6 DJs while he was absent). Although the trope of a tussling angel and devil may have become so cartoonish as to have little impact, the creators brought something fresh to the imagery as the two characters literally tussled with the MES actor, leaving him bruised and battered. One hopes it was merely stage blood that he wiped from his mouth.

The dark boom of the timpani signaled the arrival of the true villain of the piece, the Skrewdriver car appears on the horizon with all the menace of Robert Mitchum’s tattooed Harry Powell, who barrels through Laughton’s Night of the Hunter like an avenging angel. Skrewdriver’s lead singer gets a brief tune which swiftly dismisses any talent (or sobriety) and pitches the hateful rhetoric of the National Front, familiar to any internet troll. Like a fireball in Eden, his Ford slams into the caravan. The audience gasps audibly, not only at the horror of the moment, but also at the surprisingly effective pyrotechnics which surely must have caused from grief to the Health & Safety crews.

Although aghast the MES character quickly recovers equilibrium, rescues his collection of Donovan LPs from the conflagration and even attempts to rescue his attacker. Alas, he is unable to save the Skrewdriver lead singer, who perishes in flames even as he recognises the devil who has come to collect his due from the outcome of living a hate-filled life. The heartbreaking song of forgiveness and love which swells then may have been slightly over the top (the nigh on angelic chorus was just a tad too much) but there was no doubting the effect on the audience, who rose en masse and joined in with the repetition of the chorus.

There was dancing in the streets of Berlin that night, as if at the end of a long war. Music and art once more had meaning: there was a reason to live!

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