God/Head is the latest piece to be written and performed by the acclaimed theatre-maker Chris Goode. Deborah Caulfield saw it at The Ovalhouse, in South London. She came away with a messed-up head and a longing to be somewhere safe.
In April 2011 Chris Goode is walking back from the supermarket when he is overcome by ‘an attack of embarrassment’, gripped by the sudden conviction that God loves him.
For any person such an event might be unsettling. For an atheist it is deeply disturbing.
Chris tweets: ‘Is it just me or is anyone else having a really odd day?’ He’s behaving normally, but underneath he’s scared.
He’s scared! By the end of the performance, I’m a wreck.
It starts fairly normally. Chris steps onto the stage area looking friendly and relaxed. He explains to the audience that what we’re about to see is just a play; it isn’t real. Look, here’s James, in charge of light and sound. And here’s Claire, a friend, who doesn’t know much about the story but has agreed to come along and help tell it.
The story is true, Chris says. It’s about something big that happened. It’s about … uncertainty.
So the story of the shopping, and stopping in the street, is retold several times. Each repeat contains a little more detail, creating a Groundhog effect.
With each rewind my anxiety increases. Every time, something unexpected happens that doesn’t make sense.
For example: Chris smiles at us, sweetly, innocently, holding out his hands, palms upwards. ‘It’s snowing’, he says softly.
Another time, a character from one of Chris’s other plays turns up and starts asking awkward questions. Why did you have to make me like that? Why couldn’t I have been different?
The story continues.
After a lifetime of depression, where weird stuff is normal, and normal stuff is enough to deal with; when there isn’t space on your to-do list for more stuff; then without warning, there it is, here; a feeling here, in the chest, near the sternum; or here, just below.
Then, on the way back from the supermarket with bags in each hand: ‘GOD LOVES ME. But I don’t believe in God!’
So, it’s beginning to affect me now, this play, this acting; the lights and the sound; all this weird stuff that I’m not expecting and don’t have the education or energy for.
I know about bullshit in the head; rubbish that someone a long time ago put there again and again; notions, ideas and images that turn up, pop in, and freak you out when the moment arises, when you’re feeling … what? Scared?
Chris wants answers. Josie, an experimental psychologist, says it doesn’t sound too much like schizophrenia. More likely, what Chris has experienced is all just a load of neurochemicals, like all sensations, actually. Even love. But it doesn’t mean there’s no meaning in it.
So then, what does it mean, this big thing that happened? All the stuff there wasn’t any space and time for in the first place.
God/Head concludes in a cacophony of loud, abstract, tuneless music; a solid light and soundscape of terror, over which Chris shouts and gesticulates. He’s turned into one of those good times/bad times online preachers. I’ve no idea what Claire is up to.
Upstairs at Ovalhouse has turned into a hell-hole. My mind is adrift with dreams of escape. As soon as I get in, I’ll make a cup of tea, switch on my computer and write the review.
Directed by Wendy Hubbard, God/Head continues at the Ovalhouse Upstairs, London until Saturday 10th March. Go to www.ovalhouse.com for details.
God/Head is being performed at the Theatre in the Mill, Bradford 9-11 May. Go to www.brad.ac.uk/theatre for details.