I’m meeting David Gale outside the red post box by Costa Coffee in the middle of Waterloo Station. The station is my choice but the meeting place his – “Let’s meet by the red pillar box outside Costa’s” he says somewhat conspiratorially “I’ll be the one wearing the long blue overcoat”.
Whilst this could be taken simply as practical meeting arrangements, Gale somehow manages to imbue the whole thing with a sense of adventure. I have to stop myself from confirming that I’ll be the one wearing the red carnation.
Welcome to the wonderful world of David Gale. Part puckish imp, part earnest documentary maker (more on that later), this gleaming eyed slapstick aficionado is an avant-garde theatre maker with a history of boundary breaking performances under his belt. But he is also a man who is a million miles away from the pretension that often hangs like an albatross around the ‘live’ artist’s neck.
Gale is the proud father of the delicious performance package that is David Gale’s Peachy Coochy Nites, a monthly text/image entertainment show at Toynbee Studios where presenters or ‘Coochers’ each chose 20 slides and have 20 seconds to speak about each. In his current show at the BAC Gale has continued his experiments with the short form in Dash Dash Dash, a series of six 25 minute plays produced in conjunction with Wimbledon College of Art where he is a visiting lecturer.
Gale was originally given a brief to write a number of short pieces for the student designers to respond to within a pedagogical format. But the quality of work created within this setting inspired him to take these pieces into a professional framework; the culmination of which begins tomorrow with all six shown together in Dash Dash Dash: The Omnibus.
The Omnibus is a typically ironic addition, with Gale at pains to point out that these are definitely not episodes in a serial; “I was…trying to resist the massive gravitational pull of the planet of narrative [although] it is very seductive”. With no unifying narrative or character journey, the plays are the product of a writer who admits to finding the idea of storytelling not only problematic but also slightly irritating.
But while he denies the audience the conventions of a linear narrative he has resolutely replaced it with something else. Into this potential vacuum comes a psychological coherence that is a solid reflection of our deeply destabilised everyday experience. Quoting JG Ballard, Gale believes that the most successful psychological type in the 21st Century is the psychopath. This omnibus is his response to a society where psychopaths are as commonly seen in ties at banks as they are on the streets with knives.
In this way each of these shorts, however surreal, are documentaries; “In order to create a consumer you have to gut them, in order to create a young women you have to humiliate her with imagery… there’s all sorts of indirect violence going on all the time and so it seems therefore that to have a bit of gratuitous blood letting reflects that.”
Quite a tense ride then. But alongside these tangible psychological anxieties, Gale’s sense of old fashioned theatrical trickery also comes through with vivid force. His admiration for such stage play is clear as he speaks of the precision it takes to craft a well tuned slapstick routine or scare the audience with an unexpected loud noise or bang. Along with posing discomforting questions about the fractures inherent within our society it seems he also wants us to enjoy his particular brand of spectacle. “I want [the audience] to be entertained, I love it when they laugh at my jokes” he admits with a confident wink.
It is this sense of humour which allows his work to remain accessible even in its most abstract forms. It also helps that Gale’s pragmatic side is never too far away. Praising their long suffering production manager and talking at some length (albeit it with trademark poetic eloquence) about the machinations of onstage scene and costume changes, Gale seems at heart a practical theatre maker. “What I would do for a revolve” he sighs wistfully, his eyes misting over at the thought of the Olivier’s well endowed stage.
Intellectual radical philosopher and practical stage co-ordinator, this intoxicating mixture of the sensible and wittily silly emanates palpably from Gale. “I’m interested in portraying what seems to be an extraordinarily frightening collapsing social and cultural political experience” he says very seriously. So a fractured mirror to a fractured world I posit? “Well” he twinkles “I should add that the shows are very very funny, and so the gratuitous blood letting, of which we are all very proud, is nothing less than a delight.”
We say goodbye and he goes off to his shed to continue editing the heavy techno music that will also feature heavily in the piece. As I walk way from our rendezvous in a world of shivering uncertainty one thing at least seems undeniably true; we are all about to be treated to a kaleidoscopic adventure of chills, thrills, shits and giggles from this unique practitioner.
Dash Dash Dash: The Omnibus runs from Thursday 13 – Saturday 15 May 2010.