Theatre Review: Henry Rollins – Rollins In The Deep, Or Tales That Teach

October 3, 2016



Henry Rollins 2016 SA Tour / Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City, Johannesburg


As multiple attendees will now know, Henry Rollins’ introduction to his latest spoken word monologue – all two-and-a-half hours of it – is on the same theme as every other similar show he’s performed in the past few years: “Hi, I’m Henry and I’m nobody special. I’m surprised you bothered to turn up. I appreciate it.”

Again – as is always the case – he proves that humility to be misplaced via a mix of brutal honesty, penetrating insight, flagrant intelligence and the lessons learned from a full life lived with concentrated intent.

There was a comment made before the show about Rollins not being “as angry as usual”, and this latest set is perhaps less shouty than some of his previous addresses. He does refer to his age – Rollins is now 55 – more than has been the case in the past and perhaps, even for a man whose mission statement includes taking in the widest possible perspective, he is now getting to a point where anger has become just one of an enormously long list of viable reactions, and being sensible (it’s okay, that’s not a synonym for “dull”; anything but…) is more enjoyable for him.

Rollins places a high value on relationships, and urges his audience to do the same, but stating that plainly would make him nothing more than a motivational speaker – a good one, but just another sterile corporate presence. Instead, he illustrates the merits of investing in other people and putting up with the resulting hassles using a succession of stories taken from moments in his own extraordinary life or from observations of what’s going on in the media or in whatever context Rollins currently occupies.

There is a touching account of a young co-star in a television series who had a condition that caused him to react in a certain manner, but which the show’s director completely missed because he wasn’t looking for it. Then, on the other side of the coin, there is the story of Rollins having one of his idols, David Bowie, introduce himself and then reveal that he was a fan of Rollins’, which obviously made that encounter a very special time. And in between the two, there is any number of what seem initially to be disparate tales. But even at the pace at which Rollins delivers his lines, he manages to maintain or revisit threads – sometimes returning to a reference fully two hours after he first mentioned it – in a way that confirms that he is a raconteur of rare skill.

His attitude is as infectious and inspiring as his quick-fire tales are entertaining. Rollins wants to fill every waking moment with opportunities to learn, reasons to upgrade himself and moments in which he can achieve something rather than just wandering along, hoping for way forward to make itself evident. There are no props – Rollins walks on stage, plucks a microphone from a stand, winds its cable around his hand and gets on with it – but there is still a visual impact to what he does, because he radiates drive, vitality and a willingness – no, a desire – to hustle his way into a place in which he will feel edified.

That’s a great takeaway for a gig like this: go and try to be someone who does something, rather than just an observer. Rollins’ latest challenge is effective and thought-provoking. And funny. And saddening. And human.