‘A one-woman political disco’

‘Hannah Ringham is dancing on her own. Spinning around the expansive, empty stage in red kitten heels. Arms pumping, she yells as each new tune starts “I love this one!” Every anthem is embraced as a favourite, even when they seem to be weird remixes– just a snatch enough to still be recognisable as a song. It is almost anti-theatre, frustrating and slippery to watch – and brilliant.

Die or Run is created by Ringham, one of the co-founders of Shunt, and Glen Neath who is part of the sensory, immersive theatre company Darkfield (Coma, Flight, Séance). So, it should come as no surprise that this show is purposefully bizarre. It’s a particularly eerie sort of weird. Ringham’s dancing and stream of consciousness narration are almost realist, but their extension and repetition over the hour twists the experience until it becomes uncanny and uncomfortable.

Ringham takes breaks to sit among the front row of the audience, all the while continuing to discuss her memories of the 1980s. Her recollections blur idealised reminiscing with Thatcherite politics. Her back-combed bouffant and power suit give the impression of a real ’80s power-bitch. Yet it is very clear that this woman is not in control.

Die or Run is both a frighteningly authentic representation of anxiety and a surreal trip that feels like sitting on the edge of a panic attack. It might be one of the weirdest nights at this year’s fringe, but it might also just be one of the best.’ - Francesca Peschier, The Stage ★★★★

Panic attacks and disco tracks

History repeats itself. Fashions are forever being reinvented under the lens of nostalgia. Old bands enjoy an uptick in royalties as they find themselves rediscovered by new listeners. Political ideologies are embraced, rejected, then repackaged for subsequent generations. We struggle to recreate childhood comforts when we’re scared and sad, and we all rerun the slideshow of our most anxiety-inducing memories when it’s late and we’re tired but we still can’t sleep.

Smashing all of these ideas into a bewildering, boldly-executed stream of consciousness performance-piece, Die or Run grapples with panic attacks, disco tracks, and the still searingly-radioactive fallout of Thatcherism.

It’s written by Hannah Ringham and Glen Neath, the team behind 2011’s discomforting satire Free Show (Bring Money), and there’s a similar subversive energy on display here. The same crisp writing and tight structure obfuscated by intentionally anticlimactic rambling. The same pleasure in wrong-footing the audience.

As we arrive, Ringham sits in the front row, smiling and nodding her gigantic, hairspray-stiffened bouffant along to the music. Time passes. Gradually, she starts to tell us about the 80s. Her 80s, the way she remembers it. Long hot summers and snow at Christmas. Flawed recollections. Platitudes and slogans. Dripped out in tiny blurts of strained – occasionally desperate – enthusiasm. Simultaneously incomplete and extremely detailed, the way memories tend to be.

Ringham gives an absorbing performance despite the show’s claustrophobic lack of momentum. Though the text is tense and heightened, her delivery is breezily naturalistic, peppered with carefully-considered intonations and deliberate hesitations. She roams the space with the brittle confidence of a stand-up comedian. She dances like your auntie at a wedding. The overall effect is intriguing, relentless yet numbing. Like listening to static, or a song so familiar that you no longer even consciously hear it, you simply soak in it, a warm bath of reassuring sound.

We watch as her picture-postcard memories begin to unravel. As she talks about having to care for her mother. As she switches gears and croaks through a flawless Thatcher impression, “look after yourself first, and then your neighbour.” As she sinks to the floor, curls into a foetal position. As she softly, haltingly, tells herself to get on with it.

Juxtaposed against the jagged collage of Ringham’s performance, Alberto Ruiz Soler’s elaborate sound design becomes a character in itself, charting the production’s shifting tone while guiding the audience’s emotional response. This wordless score of synthy instrumental tracks samples a slew of 80’s touchstones from New Order to Marilyn Martin, with repetitive segments recycling through progressively shorter loops, and occasionally collapsing entirely into a piercing, paralyzingly insistent alarm tone.

It’s a helpful key for decoding the show’s impressionistic, impenetrable text, giving us clues to each dense passage’s intention in the same way that reading a felt-tipped track list on the back of a mix tape cassette gives you a very particular insight into your emotional state when you painstakingly recorded it, track by track, off the radio.’ - Dave Fargnoli, Exeunt

Die or Run review at Greenside Nicholson Street, Edinburgh

‘It’s the 1980s. Big hair, shoulder pads and synth-pop provide a backdrop for Margaret Thatcher’s advocacy of the individual instead of a collective society. This results in a country that loves to go out dancing, but when crisis hits, people find themselves isolated and overwhelmed. Denise’s journey from cheerful disco queen to depressed carer unfolds through a fragmented monologue of nostalgia, song lyrics and sound-bites.

The close, in-the-round staging gives what is often a listicle-style script of 80s characteristics – legwarmers! partylines! flock of seagulls! – more personality and intimacy. Even though Denise’s character takes her time to emerge, her direct address is fun and engaging. For those of us who remember the 80s, we giggle with nostalgia and how ridiculous we used to look.

There’s not much of a story, instead we are treated to a verbal landscape accompanied by 80s electronica backing tracks. What story that is present provokes a reflection on how Thatcher influenced today’s society – all of her rhetoric about how we need to look after ourselves first closely resembles what is often viewed as selfishness in millennials, who would have been subject to parenting influenced by her policy.

Hannah Ringham as Denise cuts a caricature who is simultaneously hilarious and sad. Low-key dancing and eternal dedication to her favourite tunes is joyfully carefree, but later attempts to regain that positivity and ease are wrought with frustration. The shift from one state to the other is sometimes so slow its imperceptible, at other moments they are immediate and explosive. She is unquestionably a victim of Thatcher’s rule.

Despite its simple form, it’s an engaging piece. It is initially puzzling, and there’s not much of a story to hold it together. Rather, its retro aesthetic and strong sense of longing for the past keep it going, and it’s just the right length for these choices. Any longer and it would feel drawn out and unsupported, much shorter and Denise’s journey would be rushed. Though not a mind-blowing experience, instead it is one of quiet, lingering reflection.’ - Laura Kressly, The Play’s The Thing

Die or Run

‘Is it a homage to an 80s house party or to the 80s Conservative Party is a question that springs to mind midway through Die or Run as an early drug-fuelled stream of consciousness on all that was good about the decade that gave us Dallas, big hair and New Order gives way to a disturbingly accurate compilation of Margaret Thatcher’s self-help, anti-community mantras and the repetitive beats that have been keeping the show and party going are replaced with an echoing silence as the accompaniment to the words.

The truth is that the show is possibly an homage to both of these things and neither of them. Hannah Ringham and Glen Neath’s script captures the contradictions of a decade that bought high levels of unemployment and political protests, alongside musical and social hedonism and the rise of the political ideology that led on to the fractured and divided societies of the present day.

It’s a solo performance by Ringham who manages to fill the large and empty space of the Emerald Theatre in Greenside Square with the force of her words and the unhinged nature of her delivery. Starting by sitting amongst the audience as the opening bars of New Order’s Temptation play on repeat, she taps her feet, nods her head and sings the refrain oblivious to her surroundings, before launching into the first parts of the nostalgia trip.

The acid house style love and rambling recollections start to get swamped with and dominated by Thatcher’s words as the show progresses, in much the same way as the woman herself came to stamp her presence over the decade.

The real impact of the production come in the closing section however where the early confidence and sense of invincibility is replaced by someone facing a life on her own that she seems ill-prepared for.’ - Tom Ralphs, Reviews Hub