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7 Day Drunk
Published on Sunday, 21 August 2011
4

4 stars

Assembly George Square (venue website)
Theatre
4-14, 16-21, 23-28 Aug, 8:00pm-9:00pm
Reviewed by Sarah Hill

 Recommended for age 16+ only.

Like many artists, Bryony Kimmings believes she makes better work when ‘sozzled’. The problem is, she’s not quite sure. In light of this common conception, the performance artist set out to conduct an ‘experiment’ under controlled conditions in order to find out whether, for her, intoxication has any real benefit on creativity. 7 Day Drunk is the result of this pseudo-scientific research: part live art, part cabaret, with a colourful dash of 80s-induced rave thrown in for good measure, this is a genre-bending, highly bonkers hour of fun with a much-needed sobering underside.

For seven days, Kimmings drank heavily while ‘making art’; steadily increasing her intake over the course of the week. Throughout this time, she regularly showcased work made whilst under the influence – songs, dances, costume – to the scrutiny of public opinion. Performed sober in a variety of preposterously glitzy outfits, 7 Day Drunk comprises both documentary footage and re-enactments of the experience, together with a number of anecdotes that contextualise her personal relationship with booze – from the embarrassment of her first drunken experience, to her ex-flatmate’s alcoholism. It’s poetic, messy and self-deprecating without endorsing the bottle. But, was Kimmings a better artist when drunk? ‘I don’t know’ she confesses, ‘you tell me.’

The piece assumes this attitude throughout – posing questions whilst avoiding a definitive answer.  That seems a little odd, as Kimmings certainly isn’t one to beat about the bush: her brazen honesty and willingness to share herself, warts and all, though confessional stories and song is the real appeal of her autobiographical work. ‘Take me or leave me’, it seems to say.

The piece is guilty of going off on tangents, but somehow Kimmings gets away with it. In fact, she gets away with a lot, which has much to do with her success and immense likeability as a performer. Advertising her work as ‘mega-fun!’, there is something genuinely disarming about Kimmings that soon has the audience in the palm of her hand, and willing to conform to her provocative suggestions. A spontaneous call to the stage had us leaving our seats and crossing the divide. ‘We’re all artists!’ she cries, as we dance around her, embarrassed and exhilarated.

It’s hardly as mindless a moment as it purports to be, however – yes, 7 Day Drunk is a show that touches on alcohol’s darker sides without offering solutions, but it is also one which continues her ongoing exploration of what it means to be an artist. It’s a project with serious intentions from a performer who refuses to take herself seriously – which, for me, is precisely is chaotic brilliance and charm.

Her performance style, chatty and informal, benefits from an intimate space, and from close proximity with audience members in order to keep them on their toes. This was part of the success of last year’s Sex Idiot, performed in a modest-black-box space at Zoo Roxy; but while 7 Day Drunk’s use of film necessarily changes this dynamic, I felt the choice of staging failed to fully consider what Kimmings does best. It’s a shame that much of her performance at floor level I struggled to see.

What will really divide audiences, however, is whether or not Kimmings gets to the point and fulfils her purpose. To me, the piece felt underdeveloped; the snippets of documentary footage were too fleeting and fragmented to provide a rounded picture of her experience. Perhaps it would benefit simply from a longer running time. Still, whilst it may not shed new light, 7 Day Drunk certainly isn’t short on heart and soul.

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