Kim Noble’s Lullaby for Scavengers reminds me a lot of Lucretius, an ancient Roman philosopher and poet. He compared his poetry to medicine: when a child is sick, we give them a cup of harsh tasting medicine lined with honey around the rim. It fools the child into drinking the medicine and they feel better for it. Just like this, Lucretius teaches us about the way the universe works, but does so in poetry to soften scary, uncomfortable and inconvenient truths.
Lullaby for Scavengers is the opposite. Noble chucks some of humanity’s key experiences and vulnerabilities – loss, love, loneliness – right into the gutter. To invert Lucretius’s metaphor, the sweetness lies behind the excrement-lined rim.
As he first stumbles on stage, I’m unimpressed by how much Noble uses the f word. I’m not offended by it, I just don’t find it particularly funny by itself. We quickly meet his ex-lover (a taxidermied squirrel called Squirrel, who also swears a lot), and his daughters (live maggots he keeps in a jar). It seems comparable to that weird kid in the playground who ate worms just to gross people out.
But with time, Noble introduces significance to all his abjection and shows us more of himself. We see clips of him working as a cleaner in an office, where the workers do everything they can not to interact with him, despite his advances; he ties a full vacuum cleaner bag from an elderly client to a balloon, with the intention of sending his dust (and therefore him, technically) to space. He even seats one of his maggot daughters in an appropriately small cinema he’s built on stage, so she can learn about her father’s chosen trade of performance art.
Once we recognise the humanity in Noble’s acts of minor deviance, we find that same humanity in his acts of quite serious aberrance. In one video, he snogs (for lack of a better term) his own mother, and in perhaps his most egregious deed, he puts a live maggot inside his penis. Obviously, it is disgusting, but – in the context of Noble’s performance – equally entrancing.
At risk of coming to an obvious conclusion, it is Noble’s ability to offer us perversion and keep us willingly in our seats that is most impressive. Throughout Lullaby for Scavengers, he obsessively returns to maggots, squirrels and foxes: in other words, vermin. Quite crassly, he even incorporates the homeless man who sits outside his local supermarket into his show. But, by underscoring the tenderness in the animals and people who are all too often considered little more than nuisances or eyesores, he suggests that they are worth more attention than they are customarily given (or perhaps that we are just as debased as they are).
Noble exhibits a wide range of talents in Lullaby for Scavengers, but the one that is most amusing and astounding is tightrope walking. He spends just over an hour straddling the thin line between the absurd and the obscene – and occasionally losing balance – but by the force of some miracle never actually falls off. If you go, just remember that the bitter comes before the sweet.
Image Credit: Joanna Peterson
Review by Cian Kinsella
Cian is a Classics teacher and part-time pub quizmaster living in London who is primarily interested in music but is also interested in theatre, literature, and visual arts. He is particularly intrigued by the relationship between art, criticism, and the capital forces always at play. Furthermore, he believes that subjectivity – which is ultimately at the heart of all artistic and cultural criticism – should not be concealed, but probed and perhaps even celebrated. Who decides what we like? How do they construct widely held beliefs about what is good? These are two of the questions Cian looks to address.
Cian’s latest feature on Abundant Art Review: Phaedra-a new play by Simon Stone after Euripides, Seneca and Racine-National Theatre until 8 April (abundantart.net)
Soho Theatre in association with John Mackay present this CAMPO production until 8 April.
Cult comedic performance artist Kim Noble lived in a tree, down a sewer, under an insurance office desk and in an unsuspecting client’s attic. Now he returns to Soho Theatre with his critically acclaimed show.
Tickets and information: Kim Noble: Lullaby for Scavengers – Soho Theatre
The original soundtrack to Lullaby for Scavengers by Stephen & David Dewaele (aka Soulwax / 2manydjs) is now available on a limited edition cassette (with download code) via their DEEWEE record label. You can add it to your basket at checkout and copies can be collected at Soho Theatre, as a UK exclusive, during the run of Kim’s show. Price £11