Carrion by Justin Shoulder (Fierce Festival)

[header image by Alex Davies]

Fierce Festival is happening right now as we speak! Their Performance/Parties/Politics/Pop programme (holy mother of alliteration) looks amazing and everyone in and around Birmingham is talking about it. I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it to many more of their events (damn previous engagements) but I couldn’t miss their double bill at Warwick Arts Centre, presented in conjunction with Coventry Biennial – two organizations near and dear to my heart. Justin Shoulder’s Carrion was mind blowing and unlike anything I’ve seen before, so I thought I’d write something down to preserve the memory of this amazing show. Fair warning that not only my opinions but also my descriptions of what happened in the show are super super personal – Carrion is a piece that can engender very different interpretations, even just at the level of description, so I don’t want to claim that I grasped all (or any, really) of what it was “about”; nevertheless I had some Thoughts about it, so onwards we go! 

For those of you who weren’t there, Carrion follows the story of a creature (I think) which goes through many transformations and interactions with its environment (I think) before assuming a form that blends many of its previous iterations and leaving the stage. It is very carefully composed; the costumes (by Shoulder himself and Matthew Stegh) are real works of art, helping Shoulder take on many identities and transforming his body into all kinds of odd shapes; the score, by Corin Ileto, is in turns ominous and playful, atavistic and modern; and Shoulder himself moves with dexterity and deliberateness, at one point even becoming an uncanny sort of bird/lizard hybrid – it’s hard to believe that a human body can do THAT. Overall, Carrion came across as a blend of great creative vision and technical skill. I found it epic, troubling, funny, and just downright bonkers all at once – it will certainly make you feel something, although you might not be able to identify what that something is! At on point I remember feeling, with great clarity and at the same time, a swell of epic romantic sentiment caused by the narrative and the music, and an almost irresistible urge to laugh because the performer looked at that point very much like an upside down turkey. How does that work??? I don’t know, but I loved it. 

One thing I had seen before was the positing of the creator of the show as the creator of a new universe – a kind of demiurge deciding how to populate the cosmos of the stage. This new universe is then explored either by other performers or by the creator/performer himself taking on the role of an explorer/newborn creature. In this, Carrion reminded me of two shows I saw (and loved) this year at BE FestivalPromises of Uncertainty by Marc Oosterhoff and Silence by Ça Marche. This last show in particular had an image in common with Carrion – a giant inflatable creature made out of thin plastic (very oddly specific, I know). I realized, not with hostility but with interest, that all of these shows had been created by men, and I wondered what would happen if one or more women took the same premise and created a new universe from a blank canvas. I’m sure we would get many different shows depending on the individual women creating them, and the three shows I’ve mentioned are very different from each other, but I wonder if we would find any other curious correspondences. Are giant bulbous plastic monsters a staple of the male psyche? Does the female psyche also have such unexpected staples? I don’t know. If you could create a universe from nothing, what would you put in it? I think mine would have glitter, and blood, and colour, but I haven’t got much further than that. I’d be really curious to hear your thoughts. 

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