David G. Lees has gone.
It’s a dereliction of duty, no doubt. His duty being me. Us. To sing, dance, act in our performances, that’s all I ever asked. That, and to ’Gram, strip, cook, commit to countless hours of rehearsal along the way.
Evidently, yes, eventually this was too much to ask. And so, as he takes that final, one-way journey to Glasgow, I wonder will he remember me…us…those performances we gave, from Archway to Peckham, Bow to South Ken, in pubs, museums, classrooms, theatres, galleries, bedrooms…will he remember? Or, like so much art, will this all fade and fall into the past—
David, I can’t allow that: therefore, as you embark on your new life, without me, let me revisit, tearfully, a few of our greatest hits…
Our first collaboration was ‘The Erpingham Camp’, a version of Joe Orton’s TV play, performed in the hall of St-James-The-Less Church, Bethnal Green, by the (David-established) Bethnal Green Theatrical Society. That was 2012. Couple years later we did a take on ‘Nuts in May’ at the Golden Lane Estate Community Hall. Two comedy horrors about the Great British holiday staged in tea-and-cake surroundings.
Why did I get involved? Fun, primarily, but also to do stuff that wasn’t me-me-me. This failed – I am far too opinionated, a backseat driver, I care too much.
Many actors from those plays popped up in ‘Living With Varicose Veins’, a video I made with Alex Brenchley, as part of our ‘Silk Handkerchiefs’ series. David plays a straight-talking straight man who proclaims, “I’ve never gone out with someone with varicose veins and that’s something I pride myself on!” Unfortunately, David is upstaged by Bairbre Meade as his unblinking girlfriend.
In 2014, Alex, David and I did a Freshly Scratched at Battersea Art Centre. We devised a theatrical adaptation of three songs I had made with Sam de Groot – dramatised rap. It culminated in David, with superb lechery, receiving a lapdance from Alex. We took that piece on outings to the V&A, Horse Hospital, a super-bleak symposium about economics in art, and, most happily, Millington Marriott.
This was when the Millington Marriott boys had their space on Ilderton Road. We did it on the rooftop. With the Shard, Den and wide London sky as our backdrop on a freeeeeeeeeeeeezing Saturday afternoon in December.
Inexplicably, the joined forces of Alex, David, Millington, Marriott and myself could muster only a micro-audience – but who cares when that select few had AAA-superstars like Kerry Campbell? – and they got to see the best outing of the piece. Afterwards, we cracked open a bottle of this Champagne I’d got for ushering a friend’s wedding which we drank out of plastic cups. It was a really nice day.
Didn’t do much in 2015 except a performance at the launch of a book called ‘Exit Strategies’ by the RCA photography department. This included a short story by me that for the purpose of the launch we adapted it into a brusque entertainment. It began by David and Alex bellowing, “Shame!” to quieten the noisy attendees.
Hot take: performing at art stuff – launches, openings, etcetera – is a nightmare. Everyone just wants booze but performances are inserted in there because it would be tragic to acknowledge everyone just wants booze. Keep it short and shouty is my advice to anyone with a performance at some art event coming up that they are dreading.
This one was actually a lot of fun. Its finale was a rendition of the underrated Coldplay song ‘True Love’. As we took our bows, Bláithín Mac Donnell was ready with drinks for the brave entertainers. It’s so important – after performing, all you need is a massive drink. Massive drink first, then tell me how great I am.
Friday 13, May 2016, ‘Will Your Anchor Hold?’ premieres in the Bow bedroom of David G. Lees. Someone should blue plaque that flat on Wrights Road.
‘Will Your Anchor Hold?’ was a one-person show. It began the moment the first audience member arrived and pushed the doorbell. Henceforth, David’s role required him to act, host, adapt to every eventuality – tense silences, distraught toddlers, people hiding their eyes in horror, audiences wanting to ‘interact’ – and let’s not forget: these were usually total randos on his actual bed! Takes a special performer to do what David did. Picture below is by Justinas Vilutis, favourite photographer.
Flashback 2013: Alex, David and I made two variety shows. One in the giant studio Pablo Smidt used to have in Borough, another upstairs at the Bear in Camberwell. Three years later, we returned to the format for two nights at the Oak & Pastor in Archway, branded ‘An Evening With’.
2016 Palexdav, as we never were known, were more experienced, versed in stagecraft, we knew better how to move three bodies on a stage and shape an hour of stuff. ‘An Evening With’ was a mixtape of songs, poems, monologues. I was pleased by those nights. They can go in the Paul Haworth Time Capsule, especially the second, which was PACKED. Love a sell-out: makes the shameless self-promotion life worthwhile.
At ‘An Evening With’, David did some impeccably gross cooking…
That is ‘Ouefs Drumkilbo’, a sloppy seafood-and-egg salad, and then there was ‘A Belgian’, the Queen Mother’s favourite cocktail. Which formed the basis for ‘Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer’, a follow-up to ‘Will Your Anchor Hold?’.
When the idea came for a new story, I asked David: “David, are you up for the emotional-durational commitment this requires?”
“O Captain! My Captain!” said David.
Which relieved me, for I knew 2017 was the year of The Great Departure. This would be our last show, last hurrah, last run of drunken rehearsals.
A word about that.
Our staple was ‘Spanish Red’ by Tesco. “Soft & fruity with gentle cherry & strawberry flavours.” Every rehearsal we’d each drink a full one, even though it costs £3.50 per bottle. It isn’t then just David the collaborator I’ll miss – I’m losing a drinking buddy. To my 20-something fanbase, this might sound inexplicable but life changes swiftly and at a certain age you’re lucky if friends have time for a half. Who will finish the bottle with me now?
The story of ‘Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer’ was based around the nightmarish prospect of David leaving London – being dragged against his will to Glasgow to get married. Spoiler: he faces his demons and stays in London. So lots of writerly psychological stuff going on there. I initially intended another bedroom play but the story became physically and emotionally bigger: this would be a function-room play.
The opportunity came to do it at Camden People’s Theatre and (though fiercely independent and DIY) I thought this would broaden our audience. To be underground is fine – but lately I’d felt like an underworld artist. Plus I wanted reviews. Waving Camden People’s Theatre’s name around would surely lure some Internet scribes in?
Finally some critical validation: “David is a cocktail of creepiness and charm”, “David G. Lees is really good as David”, “I didn’t find David funny and I really did try”. Words of praise that David can use as references to re-enter Glasgow theatreland. Most tragically? A Younger Theatre: “The Lees-Haworth comedy duo have a great future ahead of them.”
That future has gone. I can and will perform solo – but these are sombre, depressed affairs. For the stupid, outrageous, fun and funny, I went to David. That’s why I *pray* Glasgow has him pirouetting in a cloud of glitter and showtunes sharpish – because if they can’t make full use of David G. Lees then I WANT HIM BACK.