SICK! Festival of Contemporary Performance Art produced by contemporary performance organisation the Basement plays in Brighton from 1- 16 March. John O'Donoghue sees Bobby Baker’s Mad Gyms And Kitchens and ends up having a nice cup of tea.
As you come in to Bobby Baker’s Mad Gyms And Kitchens you see those little signs left on some of the seats: Reserved. As the piece goes on you realise that there is nothing Reserved about Bobby Baker.
Her show is all about getting better at feeling better and Bobby gives her Top Tips for wellbeing. She’s dressed in a white coat, snazzy white trainers, black trousers and a black t-shirt with a red belt around her waist and a small rucksack on her back. She looks more like a doctor than a patient and her show is a kind of Christmas Lecture on how she went from being ill to being well.
On the stage are five large metal cabinets, the kind rock groups tour with, or stage magicians use for sawing their charming assistants in half. Out of these cabinets come her exhibits, her props, her wellbeing.
But first she shows us a diagram of herself, drawn in her own inimitable way, with lots of lines pointing to the parts of her body that succumbed to illness. In her time Bobby has had most psychiatric diagnoses, including Borderline Personality Disorder – ‘And I thought my personality was the best part of me’, she observes drily – and she goes on to talk about her breast cancer, her knee replacements, her exhaustion.
Then she starts to unpack her cabinets of curiosities. Out of the first comes a small gym and she announces that her first Top Tip is Exercise. Bobby starts lifting some very small weights – 1kg – and regaling her audience with tales of pumping iron at LA Fitness. But it’s all done with a kind of Tommy Cooper scattiness – those tiny weights – and by the time she’s onto the second cabinet she is in full clown mode.
For next comes a kitchen and from Tommy Cooper she now morphs into a mad Fanny Craddock, cooking seeds, frying garlic, chucking stuff together to make her most important meal of the day: breakfast. Her next Top Tip – wait for it! - is Diet.
Next comes Rest and viola! out pops a bed from her third cabinet. She lies down and does a few turns between the cosy-looking sheets. It’s at this point you realise that there’s nothing too revolutionary in terms of her Top Tips for well-being. Exercise, Diet, Rest – this is what every physician since Hippocrates has been prescribing for the unwell. But Bobby Baker subverts the solemnities of the medical profession in an anarchic, antic display of scatter-brained patter and old-fashioned ‘business’ – Bobby could be Bobby Ball for all the humour and energy she brings to the stage.
We finally come to Top Tip Number Four – Leisure – and suddenly there’s a little living room on stage complete with armchair and ornaments. It looks a little like a beach hut, and suddenly Bobby is very much at home.
But we’re not finished yet. There’s that Fourth Wall to knock down. She invites her audience up for a cup of tea and a biscuit and it’s like Iggy Pop inviting Glasto up onto the Pyramid Stage, only on a different, more intimate, more English scale.
And that’s how it ends, with us drawing our own Top Tips and having a cup of cha with Bobby. The Mad Baker’s Tea Party one wag calls it, and suddenly in all the hilarity and wellbeing you realise what she’s come through. And along with the laughter comes reflection. For this surely must be the Toppest Tip of them all: Humour. Bobby Baker is a funny woman but like every good clown you wonder at the tears they’ve cried alone. And then you marvel that she’ll be doing it all again for the evening show.
Mad Gyms And Kitchen is part of the Sick! Festival. For details see www.thebasement.uk.com