Kim Noble’s new show feels like a watershed moment. Surely, it’s the weirdest comedy show ever to hit London and it crosses boundaries that should probably remain unviolated. More performance art than traditional theatre, Noble’s show is literally littered with the corpses of animals, but Lullaby For Scavengers ultimately speaks of life.
Early on in this high-tech show Noble discusses the work of enfant terrible Joseph Beuys, the performance artist who, in 1974, once spent three days living with a live coyote in a SoHo gallery in New York. Noble’s play in London’s Soho isn’t quite as risky. Instead of a coyote, the only live animals in this show are maggots. One squirms between his fingers and a camera projects this image in grotesque detail on to a huge screen behind him at the back of the stage. This show is not for the faint-hearted.
And yet for all its gross out moments – and there are plenty – there’s something still quite poignant about Noble’s story. The show, like the performer’s last name, is noble and somehow gives dignity to the animals we call vermin. His co-host is a taxidermy squirrel, the same squirrel that was killed in Noble’s attic after he called in pest control. Now a puppet, manipulated and voiced by Noble, Squirrel tells their own narrative about not being able to resist the blue poisoned seeds that one day appeared in the rafters.
In comparison to the maggots that are to come, Squirrel’s tale seems rather innocent and quaint. Noble calls the maggots his ‘daughters’, and the film shows Noble sharing a bath with hundreds of them or burying his head into a wriggly mass of them. Of course, Noble is out to shock, but as his 80-minute show progresses, his relationship with the maggots feels deeper than the way the larvae appear in a Bushtucker trial on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here.
Noble’s show goes in very strange directions and there is footage from hidden cameras of people who have not agreed to be filmed including one old man who Noble cleans for. In the man’s home, Noble wants to talk about his personal life but the man only wants his microwave cleaned. And yet, Noble returns some dignity to the man who can never leave his house.
It gets even more bizarre towards the end as he roams the streets looking for cadavers of foxes who have been hit by traffic. Their bodies appear on stage out of nowhere, and things move when they shouldn’t, giving rise to a nervous audience. But there’s something magnetic about Noble’s performance that will make even the most prudish stay.
Will there be calls for this show to be shut down? Possibly. There are certainly some images that you won’t want etched on your retina for the rest of your life. But the challenges certainly are worth it; and for any London dweller where the bodies of foxes and pigeons are a daily occurrence, there is something disquietly familiar about Noble’s story of urban loneliness. For sure, this lullaby won’t put you to sleep; indeed, it may give you nightmares. But it’s a show that you will never forget.
Runs until 24 September and returns in March 2023