On an ice-laminated night, when the world – or at least the London transport system – is in full freefall, we trundled our way to Hackney Wick to be warmed by the princess of the experimental theatre world, Lucy McCormick.
I say warmed, but I think we were boiled like the apocryphal frog blissfully smiling as everything around us goes up in glorious flames.
McCormick’s accolades echo along the halls of the best venues – best performer at Dublin fringe, nominee for various industry awards, research fellow at Queen Mary University, and artist-in-residence at the Soho Theatre.
On and on and on, so what would we expect from this intimidatingly lauded personage?
If the answer you’re formulating is full frontal nudity, open conversations on loneliness, shaggy dog stories delivered in a thong and caution tape, and Celine Dion, you would be a psychic, because that’s precisely what we got.
Following on from her 2019 show Life: LIVE, we have a stripped-back, post-pandemic Lucy, alone and looking for friends. Be worried, audience dear, be very worried.
Greeting us in a tree costume (don’t ask), the concept that follows is a little aggressively meta.
Abandoned by her theatremaker friends, Lucy soldiers on with the Spiegeltent cabaret extravaganza, without them or the tent.
So, as any clever, educated theatre deviser would do, she asks the audience to be her collaborators, and ultimately friends.
Notes in hand, she directs, harangues, herds and belittles us, and we thank her, amazingly.
Normally this amount of audience participation and obviously informed theatre creation masquerading as rubbish would send me diving into my Uber (see above, train strikes) at double speed.
But Lucy has a disarming ability to pull something charming out of total chaos. She dominates the stage and the 100-something people jammed into the chipboard amphitheatre.
The Cher, Celine Dion, and Robyn soundtrack is sung like a drunken Christmas choir by the audience, following along with the rather crumpled song sheet on each of our seats.
This is not the only moment where the audience (thankfully mainly front row) are pulled into action.
Lucy picks random people to silently play her mother and agent, who she eventually and hilariously turns on, screaming about her personal and professional issues.
She is, at this point, covered in tomato paste, deep eyeliner, and a wig presumably stolen from Christina Aguilera in the ‘Lady Marmalade’ music video. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, it’s unhinged, and it’s unimaginably good.
There is a grotesque bravery to McCormick’s work and a fiendish joy in silliness and messiness. The sexually explicit scene where she sings Nora Jones’ ‘Don’t Know Why’, and spills red wine down herself is a shocking highlight.
Food is smeared, sweat, tears and extensions are shed, and a pole dancing scene sees the pole being cut in half with a disk saw.
We never know what’s happening, and something about this wild ride is a much-needed break from the structure of reality waiting for us outside.
Yes, the jokes are heavily dad-ish in style, but they are interspersed with political rants and self-references that lead you down a winding rabbit hole.
Sometimes the payoff is not quite worth the effort but overall the groans at the eventual punchline are joyful, not dismissive.
As we clamber down the stairs to sing ‘All By Myself’ while Lucy throws confetti and streamers at us, we realise this is an odd community, bonded by trauma and yet united.
Whatever had just happened was riotous, contradictory and bloody good fun – now how to explain it to our friends and editors, we wonder.
Here goes: it’s like doing a flaming tequila shot in an oil refinery… yep, that about covers it!