Sing for Your Life

For those of a squeamish nature, this may not be the best review to read over your breakfast. Charlie Tuesday Gates is a taxidermist and performance artist who uses deceased animal puppets to perform a number of cabaret songs that loosely string together the plotline of Sing For Your Life. To clarify, these are not stuffed animals that one would find in a museum but skinned, empty and glassy-eyed hulls: think Avenue Q, crossed with The Walking Dead, crossed with the roadkill on the side of the M25 (some of which may have made it into the line-up for the evening).

If this show is trying to make a point about the ill-treatment of animals, then lining up a parade of husks to be laughed at doesn’t seem the best method of being taken seriously.

From plucked chickens to a skinned minx, throughout the show as each puppet is produced there is a horrified intake of breath, followed by gasps and laughs as the cast contort them into various positions approximating dance moves on top of the customised piano. This is, ultimately, a show that will divide opinion - if you don’t enjoy the first ten minutes then cut your losses, because it doesn’t get any better.

Gates has created this show as a dark twist on typical movie tropes: a young man (or in this case, a young pug) is kicked out of his cosy domestic home and finds himself in the wild backyard; from here he meets his guardian figure and is promised to rise to stardom through the local talent show. When parodying common storylines like these - “we’re gonna make you a star, kid!” - there is a risk of falling prey to the very idea that is being mocked, and that is what has happened here. Stripped to its bare bones, Sing For Your Life can’t seem to decide if it is a musical, a cabaret or a play: the dialogue is bland enough for a musical, yet things take a decidedly dark turn towards the end.

What concerns me most, however, is the contradictory message in place by using carcasses to make a point about animal welfare. This is tapping into a much larger debate about taxidermy as a whole, and of course these animals were not killed for the purpose of Sing For Your Life, but it still seems inherently disrespectful to be exploiting them for entertainment. If this show is trying to make a point about the ill-treatment of animals, then lining up a parade of husks to be laughed at doesn’t seem the best method of being taken seriously.

To quote the show itself, “all you want are sensational gimmicks”: while I can appreciate the critique present in the role reversal of placing our scruffiest animal pests centre stage and the humans under the needle, this still feels too much like using grotesquerie to shock above all. If you know that you enjoy laughing and squirming at the same time, then this is the show for you, but if skinned animals and blank eyes aren’t your idea of fun then steer well clear.

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The Blurb

Notorious taxidermy artist Charlie Tuesday Gates has scraped up roadkill, bought deceased dogs on Gumtree and revived her family pet to bring you this five-star, death-defying and hilariously unsettling musical comedy... starring real dead animal puppets. Hold on to your conscience – it's the greatest show that ever died. 'A powerful howl of injustice with a distinctive creativity and grotesque charm all of its own.' ***** (C of E Newspaper). 'A mass of contradictions ... incongruously clever. A sordid, sardonic Sesame Street' **** (Londonist).

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