Last Gasp: A Recalibration at the Barbican
Last Gasp: A Recalibration is somehow described perfectly by its rather vague, confusing name – because that’s what it is: vague and confusing, but with positive connotations of the words. The premise definitely sounds negative – moving on after loss – though it is as light and uplifting as the ever-present spotlight. The “last gasp” is a human death, while the recalibration is a machine, the only thing that can revive, or recalibrate, after death.
Unfortunately, people cannot be recalibrated as easily as instruments, but Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw, two LGBTQ icons, leave viewers with an instruction manual, covering topics such as how to listen to music with old, albeit bad, associated memories, how to enjoy dinners, and even how to die gracefully. The show is an anthology of questions, disguised with humour, that no one ever thought they’d need the answers to. Each tale is more unpredictable than the last, yet somehow relatable to everyone and specific to them at the same time (“Where can one buy a wordproof vest?”). The audience wonders whether the next anecdote will bring dancing, silence, astral projection or even all of the above – but the result is not one-note; somehow the perfect balance of comedy and drama is achieved. There is nothing the performance is afraid to touch, from religion and politics to Amazon and aliens, the wide-ranging topics seeming to somehow coincide.
It is a two-woman show, wherein no man is needed to assist with the stage and props. Lois does all that herself, even dragging the table across the stage, somehow making it theatrical and part of the narrative. Despite only sharing a little over an hour of her time, her moves are slow, purposeful, and, most importantly, engaging. The technical difficulties that theatregoers thought they had left behind with at-home shows during lockdown feature here in Peggy’s projection. Despite not being present on-stage, she has a stage presence. Meanwhile, Lois has restless energy, constantly performing dances moves open to interpretation. Her movements seem natural and fluid, even as she fights with a conveniently placed sheet, which almost becomes a character, used as a versatile prop, from movie screen to a rag on the floor.
Echoing is referenced constantly throughout, and is mirrored in Lois and Peggy’s call and response narrative. Sometimes they even echo what the other is saying, creating a true auditory experience – or hallucination. It is so surreal, but it’s actually happening. Also outlandish is the age of these women – 72 and 77, yet they are limber and flexible in their movements and bring so much energy. Their performances are matched only by their chemistry, and the sole criticism would be that it doesn’t last longer.
Last Gasp: A Recalibration is for the average theatregoer, but this ranks as a top Barbican show. Peggy and Lois deliver spoken word as never heard before.
Last Gasp: A Recalibration is at the Barbican from 19th October until 23rd October 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.