At the start of his one-man show, The Price Of Everything, Daniel Bye informs his audience that if they have come for a regular play then they have basically come to the wrong shop. He tells them that the show is going to be in the nature of a “performance lecture” and sets about giving out facts and figures which centre on the price which various elements of the body would fetch on the open market.
So, it seems that his claim is true… except that it isn’t. Because this is, first and foremost, a theatrical piece which examines the function of narrative and makes us question the veracity of what we hear. Although presented in factual form, Bye cheerfully eventually admits that he has made some of it up in order to illustrate his thesis. Invented or not it makes for a fascinating hour.
Bye’s work (at least what I’ve seen of it) can be uncannily prescient. His 2013 piece Going Viral examines the spread of a virus and this time round his show hits on several other aspects of life which have come under recent scrutiny. So, in this 2012 Edinburgh Fringe piece he muses on the “profit return” of the NHS, a topic which couldn’t be more timely. He also examines the cost of the arts to society and the value that is derived from them.
In a witty diversion he tells the tale of how he sells non-existent items on eBay such as an air guitar and the inexorably slow passage of time and that by doing so he gathers together enough funding to finance the making of the show we are watching – perhaps, after all, the argument that the theatre, etc. should be funded via the open market is not so retrograde after all. He then makes the analogy that the cost of the arts per person is the same as a third of a pint of milk and then pours, drinks and hands out glasses of the same to illustrate the various points he is making. If all this makes it sound like an entertaining TED Talk then you wouldn’t be far wrong; in fact a work in progress version of the first half of the show as a TED Talk is also available.
There is a brief intermission when everyone gets to drink milk (of course) but it turns out that even this is by way of a theatrical set up to fuel the second half. This consists of a shaggy dog story about the setting up of a Utopian society in north east England based on random acts of kindness which concentrates on value rather than price; needless to say, milk plays a very central part once again. Amusing enough in its own way the narrative also cleverly brings in aspects of the first section which have all but been forgotten about. Suddenly the “lecture” begins to have the unity of a play in monologue form and if there are aspects which seem to have little to do with anything else than just hang in there – everything marries up eventually.
I’ve mentioned before that Bye has more than a whiff of Dave Gorman about him – they even both wear check shirts. They are both adept at making surprising connections but where the latter wants to amuse us and make us laugh, Bye’s raison d’etre is all about getting us to think. He is an apparently self-effacing figure with a dry sense of humour…or is this just another construct to lull us into a false sense of security as he gets us to question our own motives and ethics? In Lady Windermere’s Fan, Lord Darlington is asked to define a cynic. Oscar Wilde has him reply “A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. Daniel Bye’s show references the first part of this famous epigram but actually it is the second (deliberately?) unacknowledged part which asks us to drop our cynicism and understand that there are some things of value upon which one just can’t put a price.