Vaults, London – until 5 February 2017
Ian is a lightbulb. Nora, Dora and Kat are like moths to his flame – light-up trainers, hair in bunches and white dungarees drawn into his heady mix of strobe and smoke and thumping house music. It’s 1989, Mancunian Ian slams down the track and the three performers rave like no tomorrow. Because, with politics around, with Maggie Thatcher in her ivory tower down South, who knows if tomorrow will even come around? Better to escape into the rush of the drugs; the ecstasy and the acid and the headbanging and the illegal, underground mosh pit in The Vaults cavern. In Bed With My Brother gets its audience on its feet – We Are Ian, we are all Ian for this show.
It is easy to assume that this production will be concept over execution. The performers speak very little, except to mumble and groan and yearn for more. But the show isn’t simply a heady, hazed and crazed party. Yes, it’s full of reference to drugs, the brown biscuits that Nora, Dora and Kat gobble up like Pringles – they popped so obviously, they can’t stop. Yes, there is audience interaction, a forceful encouragement to get up, participate and dance like nobody is watching because even if they are nobody will remember. But this is also politics – anti-establishment and an escape from 1980s oppression. Only, by the end, it’s not the 1980s anymore. Nora, Dora and Kat are ghosts of their former selves from too much of a good thing. But the establishment is still there; it doesn’t fade, it simply puts on another mask; from Thatcher to May, holding hands with Trump.
Among all the subtext lies another, more emotional layer – the after-effects of those magical biscuits, the ones they throw at the audience while laughing manically. But that intense rush, that thrill, ultimately leads to competition, supremacy and paranoia. The smoke becomes so thick that nobody can see, until all of a sudden the music cuts out and handheld torches illuminate the come down with horrifying clarity. Now Nora, Dora and Kat aren’t so energetic, free-spirited or vibrant. In the harsh light they are dirty, dependent and desperate. Without a word, all three transform their physicality with eye-opening results. Fast-forward to the modern day and they are still dancing, locked in a vicious cycle before doubling over in pain, the toll evident in their eyes.
But even after all this horror, 27 years of hedonism and excess, Ian exerts his hold over the girls. Nora, Dora and Kat don’t know whether to continue. In an ingenious journey that returns to where it began, it is the audience that get on their feet and force them on. We do it with a smile, but there is an underlying menace behind it – peer pressure and the promise of one more high. After just 60 minutes, Ian seduces us too the driving bass, the pulsating lights and the intensity of the performance. We Are Ian, he is in our bones and in our subconscious as we get up on stage to dance in the knowledge that the world is watching but nobody cares.