They’ve Already Won – Can there be life before death? (Theatre Review)


They’ve Already Won

8-20 December 2015

Downstairs at Belvoir. You can grab your tickets here.


Wolf Bierman once wrote that, while the spiritualist question is “Is there life after death?” the materialist question is: “Is there life before death?” Are we really alive today, alive in the sense of ecstatic opening which makes life worth living?

It is true that the end is inevitable. If AI, global warming or terrorism doesn’t get us, age will catch us eventually. The human condition has always been connected with death, the only sure thing gifted us from birth. In Gilles/Wilcox parlance, this means we’re all “fucked” which is particularly true given we’re not sure what the opposite of “fucked” might be. Living forever? Living our short lives in peace? Extending our life by defeating everyone else born around the same time and becoming written into the annals of history? We don’t particularly want to die, but how exactly do we live?

If nothing else, Harriet Gillies and Pierce Wilcox want to let us know they and their generation are at least thinking about these lofty problems, even as they become addicted to internet memes and changing jobs. Through their witty one-hour show They’ve Already Won, they offer an alternative explanation for why we spend hours in front of cat videos and viral anything’s rather than informing ourselves on the history of white western destructive dominance of the Congolese. It’s not necessarily that we’re all stupid. It’s more that ignorance is bliss, and remains so, even if you choose it consciously. The show jumps and dives around among competing philosophies and creative expression, culminating in a series of bullet points that might save us if we care to listen. Among these was a pet subject of mine, the potential for language to save us. When truth no longer exists (not even in relativity) the language game is free of its oppressive history and all can be included and excluded together. In other words, when they’ve already won, the only alternative is to change the game.

They’ve Already Won the play, is a high energy engaging approach to this complex subject matter. Gillies and Wilcox are artists, so questions are raised and answered with a certain ambiguity intended to provoke thought. They play at declaring great “truths” but even these are negated by latter show confessions of being forced to include their own contradictions and disagreements into the show’s DNA. This inclusivity provokes a great feeling of warmth from the play, even when it deals with alienating and, one could argue, depressing material. A buoyant joy is added to attestations one might not agree with, so that a pathway between competing ideologies is forged on behalf of the notion that we’re all “fucked.” In a particularly enlightening segment, the pair sit facing the audience and simultaneously sprout rambling dialogue with such enthusiastic irrationality, the raw humanity takes over and we see our busy empty-word-filled days as an opportunity to connected through our mutual disconnectedness rather than as an alienating force. It’s a nice idea and one the hour length play communicates very well. It is this joy and warmth that rescue the play from being egg-headish in its determination to prove the pair are “smart,” a problem that hovers at the edge of each of the five segments but is never allowed to take hold. They’ve Already Won is more than a chance for us to see how clever Gillies and Wilcox are. It ends up being an opportunity for us to disavow our own truth in favour of a connectivity that allows us to see we’re all in the same boat here. We’re all “fucked” together.

Lofty avoidance of pretentiousness aside, however, the real joy in They’ve Already Won is the pleasure to be had when two very talented professional theatrical folk put on a mad-capped show that actually works. Not only is the hour fully entertaining, but its cerebral and immediate, not staying with you in the questions it raises, but with the warmth it provokes. If the future is an already doomed failure, surely our chance for rescue lies in the present and the never-ending joy of Mars Bars and viral cat videos? It is certainly in theatre when the likes of Harriet Gillies (who has the most exquisite face) and Pierce Wilcox use up our time and our space to remind us that narcissism and nihilism are not the only responses available to us in a world where we are anticipating The End at every turn. If there is nothing else, then there certainly is the very real joy of watching these two perform.

This is a great show. Highly recommended.