Monday, May 12, 2003
To darkest EC2 and the Barbican for Happiness, the new performance piece by Laurie Anderson. No flash-bang multi-media spectacular this. Just one spotlight on a darkened stage, the barest musical accompaniment, a couple of songs, and Laurie.
Laurie telling tales. Tales to coax a smile, raise a laugh. Stories of her brother's parrot, or bartered kisses in the Amish Community. Even personal job satisfaction at the Chinatown McDonalds. It wasn't quite Laurie Anderson does stand-up, but at times it came endearingly close. The show's called Happiness, after all.
But just when things seem a little too cosy, we're slipped a killer blow. She makes us chuckle, recalling the time she broke her back as a kid, and was slammed in the children's hospital. And then she pauses, rewinds, plays the tale again, but now including all the bits omitted first time round – infant cries echoing down hospital corridors; children dying in the night; ward-sisters remaking their emptied beds in the morning.
A funny, moving, and surprisingly intimate performance, delivered with all the knowing understatement of a master storyteller, and in a voice capable of seducing every nuance out of every last syllable.
It was my first trip to the Barbican in quite a while. A bit like the so-hip-it-hurts ICA in the Mall, the Barbican is one of those things we arty-farty Londoners take for granted. Translation: we usually can't be arsed to make the effort and go there. This is due, in part, to the place's not entirely unjustified reputation of being a bugger to find. But sitting outside on its Waterside Terrace on a fine spring evening, a glass of red in my hand, a family of ducks on the lake; and then strolling leisurely inside to catch a performance in a theatre or concert-hall with damn-near-perfect acoustics, is one of my Seven Definitions of Heaven.
What the other six are, I'll let you know some other time.