Miguel Pereira: A dying art

Marie-Anne Mancio

{$455}For a show with so much death, Miguel Pereira’s Top 10 [Bristol] is hilarious. Its central character is a pop star with eyes painted on his eyelids. This image is one of many contradictions (Pereira’s eyes are closed, yet he looks as if he can see) and an indication that this is going to be a work that confronts us with our own voyeurism.

Video clips of an interviewee’s thoughts on death (the decorator who wants a Viking send-off; the 12 year old girl struggling to articulate what it means; the economist who tells us he might already be dead by the time we watch this; an architect who suggests dying could be our most important experience, so we shouldn’t miss it) are followed by enactments of Pereira’s demise. The structure of the show could render the work predictable, but its content is thought-provoking and the performances excellent. My personal favourite is the parody of Singing in the Rain with tin foil for puddles. A very annoyed lamp post, sick of being a backing singer, as it were, pulls out an umbrella of its own. The lamp post (in the person of Tom Marshman) murders Pereira, James Bond-style, and takes over his persona. The show’s concept—where the audience is invited to vote on the best death—is a logical extension of the current fascination with reality shows, celebrities and celebrity reality shows.

There is a tiny museum in Paris devoted to counterfeit goods, displayed next to their authentic counterparts. Some are obvious fakes (a strange-coloured Lego called Daluland); others are so real that certain manufacturers (like Levi’s) stopped making the originals because the market was flooded. This notion of the fake killing the authentic is another object of cultural fascination (a non-celebrity won UK Big Brother this year, pretending to be a pop star).

Throughout, the show highlights its own artifice. There are boots that don’t fit; a fake gun that fails to fire after we have been warned that there will be a loud bang; a visible costume rail, prompt sheets, stage-hands. The announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, for the last time, Miguel Pereira” is heard repeatedly. Curtains are drawn across the stage for a one-minute silence but the audience giggles at Pereira’s feet, the only part of his body visible. Pereira himself is re-invented from coke-head to comic (where dying on stage isn’t about his act falling flat so much as his bodily collapse, Tommy Cooper-style, mid-routine. “He was a funny man. Not a man who’s funny. There’s a difference”, intones his obituary.) Given this skill for transformation, it’s appropriate that Pereira also assumes the guise of Madonna, postmodernist icon and mistress of re-invention. This fake pop star as real pop star recalls Gavin Turk’s Pop (1993): a waxwork, the artist as Sid Vicious as Elvis. When Pereira’s Madonna is killed by the “real” Madonna (but obviously another fake), the 2 pose side by side (one bleeding from the mouth). The impossibility of knowing Pereira beyond a set of signifiers—black feather boa, velvet jacket, lamé trousers, curly wig, shades—becomes apparent when an audience member dons the costume and sings the show’s hit song.

High art does not escape Pereira’s scrutiny either. To the strains of opera, he destroys the stage set, rips off his costume till he is naked, tries to pull away at his very skin as if seeking to reduce himself to an essence. Like a true star, Miguel Pereira’s legacy continues beyond his deaths. At 4.30pm the next day the results of the audience vote will be announced. I’ll be there. I hope they play the show’s theme song, “I have green eyes, because I eat a lot of vegetables.”

2 February 2006