Review: We’re Gonna Die, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Young Jean Lee’s show, We’re Gonna Die, has the aspiration of sharing a remedy for loneliness, one that isn’t too flashy or instantly life altering.  It is an answer so simple in its obviousness that one wonders why we can’t all readily except it’s premise more frequently.

We are all going to die.

Sure, it’s not like you’d actively argue against the point, but actually it’s a sentiment we shy away from and almost have embarrassment about.

Young Jean Lee’s show is all about embracing your personhood and acknowledging that things will go wrong, and you will die, and that you’re not special. In itself, that sounds painful. The actuality of We’re Gonna Die is far different to this; it’s a joyous piece that sits well in David Byrne’s Meltdown Festival.

The straightforward structure of Young Jean Lee relaying anecdotes to the audience in a relaxed manner works less like stand up, which this routine is usually designed for, and more like a Ted Talk. Within minutes she lays her motive out in the open and invites her audience to try to understand her reasoning; She wants to share with us a remedy to counteract ‘that lonely feeling’, the feeling she, like most of us, became aware of a young age. She recounts a story of friendship when she was six years old and being rejected for the first time, which is her first memory of feeling the pain of loneliness.

Her stories are interrupted at intervals by David Byrne playing tag team with her. He replaces her on centre stage and sings a slew of songs that corresponds to the stories she has been telling. The songs come from her album, We’re Gonna Die, featuring her band Future Wife, amongst other voices and plenty well known guests. Young Jean Lee and David Byrne pass each other on the stage until the final, climatic song, ‘We’re Gonna Die, which works like an anthem, enlisting everyone in the audience to echo back the sentiment of our unwavering doom.

In a more sinister setting it would certainly be rather confronting to have a chorus of audience members chanting “we’re gonna die” over and over. One may think they’ve walked into the final meeting of a perverse cult. Yet, under Young Jean Lee’s tutelage and led by David Byrnes majestic warbling, we feel safe in our acknowledgment that personhood means pain, and it means death. Young Jean Lee assures us that there is comfort in that.

We’re Gonna Die (Meltdown Festival) is playing at The Southbank Centre until 30 August, for tickets and further information, see the Southbank Centre website. Photo by Southbank Centre.