at Camden People’s Theatre, Saturday 18th January 2014
#TORYCORE is, put simply, Conservative Party policy underscored “with the sound of pure evil”.
To get an idea, play the following two YouTube videos at the same time:
That’s tame in comparison. Now, in your head, throw in Tory quotes which are even more laughable and multiply the volume and messiness of that sound by ten. Even that doesn’t quite capture the brutal, raw power of #TORYCORE, which on an anger scale of ‘one-to-Hulk’ is very much at the latter end.
As Chris Thorpe and Steve Lawson beat away on their guitars, pouring out a violent wall of oddly-pitched sub-melodic noise, Lucy Ellinson makes her way through governmental policy. Speeches about benefits, work, fairness and benefits again. The ‘songs’ (and they do work like songs, in a way – some of them have ‘verses’ and ‘choruses’ and everything) fluctuate between being tensely funny and angrily barbaric, skewering the ridiculousness of Tory rhetoric.
Then an extraordinary thing happens. Ellinson tells us the story of Paul Reekie, widely considered to have killed himself as a result of losing his housing and incapacity benefit. She says that she and her fellow performers are going to enact “a minute’s rage” (as opposed to a minute’s silence), and they do exactly that. For one whole minute, the trio make a noise so shattering, so full of violent emotion, so ‘lost’ that you find yourself reeling and enraptured in equal measure. It’s pure, unadulterated, real anger, and is a sort of purging catharsis for those of us on the left who let those feelings bottle up inside us and feel powerless to act.
If that wasn’t enough, a brief pause gives way to Thorpe singing, in a broken, cracked voice, Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars. And then Ellinson joins in by reading tributes spoken in the days after the death of Thatcher. At first, you get a horrible feeling that this is a sort of post-ironic, faux-sincere, wannabe-funny way of considering the legacy of Thatcher. Then this quote from Cameron comes up:
Twice a week, it was as if the arms of a giant octopus shook every building in Whitehall
And you breathe a sigh of relief, giggling away the retching caused by this kind of deluded sycophancy. Rather than becoming about the loss of Thatcher, it turns into a giant middle finger to who she made ‘us’ become. Thorpe’s unbridled emotion comes not from a sadness at the loss of a politician but from an anger at what she left us with.
And it’s in these gaps – between sadness and anger, hope and despair, opened and closed space – that the piece (or ‘project’, or ‘gig’, or whatever you want to call it) finds its strange voice. Its trying to figure our how best to protest governmental policy with neoliberal agendas whilst doing exactly that, asking whether protest can be entertaining in a way which doesn’t fail to entertain.
Although the majority of people in the audience on Saturday were what we might call ‘groupies’ of the trio and at the very least left-leaning, it still caused palpable sense of riotousness, of anger, and of optimism. What would happen – you find yourself asking – if this had a bigger audience? If these three just hijacked The Voice one night and blasted this stuff into millions of homes? We’ll probably never find out, but the fact this lo-fi, low-key piece of performance can stir up those vast images demonstrates it’s power. It’s not just a piece about Tory Party values and austerity Britain; #TORYCORE is also a violent defence of the power which can be found in mass anger and the importance of active protest, which can take a small idea and turn it into something huge.