The final countdown
The apocalypse is looming. Can cabaret's finest save the day? Nathan Evans's 'I Love You but We Only Have 14 Minutes to Save the Earth' has the answers…
From economic meltdown and social unrest to climate change and 'Made in Chelsea', things clearly ain't right these days. 'If you believe in Mayan prophecies, the world's supposed to end this year,' notes alt-cabaret performer, producer and director Nathan Evans, 'and it's making a pretty good stab of it. I reckon David Cameron's probably got “666” emblazoned on his arse.'
Inspired by TED Talks - the online platform for short inspirational addresses on sundry subjects from global experts - Evans thought of corralling the cabaret scene's finest to give their ideas on averting the end of the world. As he pondered the idea, Evans recalls, 'suddenly the Queen title track from “Flash Gordon” popped into my head, including the line: “Flash, I love you but we only have 14 hours to save the earth!” And I thought: That's it! I'll give them all 14 minutes.'
The first incarnation of 'I Love You but We Only Have 14 Minutes to Save the Earth' duly appeared at the Ovalhouse in March 2011, starring five of Evans's favourite collaborators, and next month, they're presenting it again at the Soho Theatre. Alternative burlesque artist Fancy Chance's contribution, which uses illustrations, dance, music and complex lighting, is the most autobiographical, engaging with her unusual heritage as a Korean-born child adopted by white Americans while also drawing on her performance history.
The geopolitical themes hinted at in Chance's piece are developed more overtly - then given an eroticised twist - in a film piece by iconic queer performer Bette Bourne (of Bloolips) that finds the fun in duck-and-cover. And video artist Kate Pelling provides an on-screen contribution that mulls on the narcissistic potential of mass annihilation in a way that chimes mischievously with YouTube-style self-publication.
All the works have undergone varying degrees of reworking since their first outing - and the strict time-frame regulations have been relaxed - but the film segments and Fancy Chance's performance are now basically set. However, the other two contributions, from bearded lady and bingo doyenne Timberlina and fearless avant-guardian David Hoyle, have a degree of flexibility built into them.
Timberlina's take on impending doom blends her usual easy kitchen-table charm with a sense of outrage about environmental devastation. 'Timberlina's strength is audience interaction,' Evans notes, 'so she gets them involved from the outset.' But what started out as a meandering train of thought paired with free marmalade sandwiches has developed into something more strident.
'Since the first performance, I've become more embedded in a rural habitational scene and it's become a bit more of a righteous rant,' Timberlina says. 'I've become more galvanised in terms of [identifying] the root of all evil and realising that you're not going to change the world by being fluffy. Being nice all the time can wear you down. It's okay to feel cross and have a harder line on things - having care and compassion but not suffering fools gladly. Tough love.' She won't give too much away about her conclusions but 'there will be sandwiches involved'.
David Hoyle, meanwhile, has been putting the world to rights for years and exercises his take-no-prisoners sensibility in a monologue that is more or less improvised from scratch each performance. 'I laugh about David's piece being different every night,' Evans says, 'but it's great because it can be completely responsive to whatever's in the air at the time.'
The Soho run won't be the end for 'I Love You but…' Performances are planned for Latitude, the Hot August Fringe and several other dates in London and around the UK this year. The show's format allows for mutation: if one of the live artists can't make a certain date, someone else can step in. A local performer substitutes for Fancy Chance at the Brighton date, for instance, and Evans himself is taking Hoyle's spot at Latitude. 'That was never part of the plan,' he insists. 'I always wanted to work with other performers as a facilitator.'
There are plans to expand even further. 'Hopefully, we'll eventually get overseas gigs, take the core cast but bring international performers into the show as well,' Evans says. 'It's conceived as an open-ended project.' Call that a vote of confidence in the continued existence of planet earth…