A steady, rhythmic spill of rain is noticeably heard as the audience takes its seats. Onstage, a weathered suitcase is emphasised in a dusty saucer of light. A turbulence is presaged. And writer/performer Jan Noble unequivocally brings the storm with him as he roars on stage in a thunderous bellow and wail of soul-deep anguish and befuddlement. He is the individual and universal simultaneously, inextricably linked, on a Dantean journey across the spirit of land, country and border, a channel of Whitman’s Body Electric. At times, Noble’s ferocity is almost too much for the modest room above Islington’s Hope & Anchor pub to contain (I half expected the windows and doors to blow out under the relentless vocal attack). Even Noble’s prodigious streams of spittle take on the element of arias, beautiful and lyrical projected displays.

Body 115 refers to the mortuary tag given to an unknown male corpse, one of 31 victims of a catastrophic fire that tore through the ticket hall of King’s Cross station in 1987, and the last to be ostensibly identified 16 years later as itinerant Scottish gentleman Alexander Fallon. A subtle shift to a muted orange light suggests the flame of this conflagration. Noble uses this forlorn, adrift figure (a “vapour”, he explains) as a launch to explore themes of decay and resurrection, home and displacement, prison and escape. There is the frustrated burden of “the obligation of body”; blood and viscera of accumulated strife and conflict is embedded in the soil (its “capillaries” transmit aeons of information); the buried and covered-over continue to vibrate. Figures from the literary, artistic and historical world haunt the landscape, contributing to collective myth and belief. Fact & fiction coalesce into an imagined reality. A continual cycle of discovery, recovery and loss ensues. Some research prior to attendance is useful if not mandatory, as Noble fiercely embraces his abstract aesthetic, favouring the poetic over the linear. He offers no explanatory structure and is oblique in his references. 

It’s impossible, though, not to be impressed by Noble’s absolute visceral command of the material. At times an incantation, at others a lamentation, his voice soars across dimensions and time, wind-swept, waterlogged and enflamed. There are swells and contractions, overtures and withdrawals, a sweep of musicality. The quieter moments, Noble situated on the travel case, enacting the incremental breakdown of a relationship, are among the evening’s loveliest set against the greater bluster. Speaking in a more quotidian volume, he vulnerably confesses he is without “sufficient funds”, incapable of offering the personal investment necessary for successful connection, a private failure that propels him into the expanse of an equally confounding universe. 

Noble’s spill of unabated loquaciousness demands constant, attentive focus for full appreciation, and there is no time allowed to process one compelling line of dialogue or thought before the churn of another (the audience may long to read the script, allowing a moment to reflect on a phrase or passage). The energy and verbal stamina are undeniable if not a bit exhausting ultimately.n The work is a singular achievement, nevertheless, and Noble a fine and intense guide on this voyage from the highest reaches of the cosmos to the deepest recesses of the earth.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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