Reasons You Shouldn't Miss Standby For Tape Back-Up

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 40 months ago
Reasons You Shouldn't Miss Standby For Tape Back-Up ★★★★★ 5

Photo: Paul Blakemore

Londonist Rating: ★★★★★

It shouldn't work

This is just one man and a video screen with clips of telly from the 90s. How then — really, how? — does that turn into one of the most beautiful things you'll ever see? When Ross Sutherland's grandparents died, he inherited a videotape that contained a messy mash of stuff his grandad had recorded. Ross found himself watching the tape over and over, as a way of dealing with his grief and an episode of ill health and depression. The tape plays as Ross talks to the audience. But, oh, it's so much more...

It's visually stunning

Those TV clips loop and time shift, broken up by static. Even though we're looking at the title sequence of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, a tiny bit of Ghostbusters and an episode of The Crystal Maze, the snippets take on a hypnotic quality through repetition and an eerie, overlaid soundtrack. Never have we been so fascinated by a slow-mo close-up of Bill Murray's face, and we are always fascinated by Bill Murray's face.

It's so damn clever

Here's what turns Standby For Tape Back-Up from a gimmick into art: Ross's dialogue seamlessly matches what's being shown on the tape. But he's not referencing the video, no; he's talking about death, or his childhood, or his relationships. What he said to us moments earlier is given extra meaning when repeated in synchronicity with Will Smith jumping in a cab. It sounds ludicrous, but it's true. And because Ross is a performance poet, and a bloody good one, his speech has a rhythm that approaches rap at times. If you've ever wrinkled your nose at the idea of spoken word, seeing this guy lose his mind to a loop of that 'it's not all work, work, work' NatWest ad will change your perception forever.

For all that, it's not pretentious or worthy

We're aware this could sound like the worst kind of naval-gazing, art-school wank. It isn't. Ross has a self-deprecating sense of humour, an impish charm and enough full-frontal honesty to turn this into an hour of funny, raw, touching... what is it? Comedy? Performance art? Poetry? All and none of the above? Whatever it is, it's vital. Go see.

Standby For Tape Back-Up is on at Shoreditch Town Hall, Old Street EC1, until 2 May, tickets £12.50, and at the Soho Theatre, Dean Street W1, 6-11 July, tickets £10-£16. We saw this performance on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 30 April 2015