It began like any other Wednesday.
That is, until I was called down to Arundel Street – an address just off the Strand – for an emergency medical appointment. Believing myself to be fighting fit and then some (well, I occasionally go for jog, at least) the announcement came as no small surprise.
Then, of course, there was the timing. Arrival was specified for 11.20pm, and promptness was desired for what would surely count as one of the latest ‘routine check ups’ ever ordered by the NHS.
Duly obliging, I made my way to the address a few minutes early. Outside, signs for Vescovo & Co. were arranged, while the building had a sterile, ever so slightly odd feel. Invited through the door, the first of many forms are filled out – including a clause to sell my immortal soul to Vescovo & Co. Well, I knew the NHS had changed under the coalition, but even this was a little extreme…
Told to wear clinical clothes and mouth masks, I join a small group of people making their way to the basement – dubbed an infected area. A scene of restrained panic meets us: doctors and nurses rush past, wiring is exposed and a general post-apocalyptic air seeps from the cracks in the walls.
A rumbling, low-level hum lies under each word spoken. First, we’re taken to an abandoned room, and obey instructions to lie down on the bed and meditate. The voice is familiar, but only in the sense that it’s an eerie pastiche of 1980s new age culture, both instantly familiar and utterly meaningless.
Escorted through to an experimental lab, we’re handed a book-thick mental health assessment form. Broken televisions play dated, ultra-capitalist commercials, both the searing colours and message verging on pastiche.
Instructed to put down their forms, an increasingly exasperated group are then led down a cold, sterile corridor – all the while wondering what the hell was actually going on. Informed that we are to be shown the root of the infection, the crowd is crammed into a tiny space, dry ice pouring up from under us.
Then scorching lights sear through the fog and a guitar erupts. It’s Jack White. Fresh from a Radio 1 session, the guitarist is on incredible form blasting out material from new album ‘Lazaretto’ (review) and rifling through the archives.
Dressed entirely in white and joined by full band, blazing through title cut ‘Lazaretto’ before plunging into ‘High Ball Stepper’. Plucking the riff for The White Stripes’ classic ‘Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground’, the band stretches the song out towards hysteria before White screeches the lyrics to gospel standard ‘John The Revelator’.
Throwing in a quick-fire version of ‘St. James Infirmary Blues’ for good measure, the band closes with ‘Icky Thump’ and a demented White wanders into the crowd for the guitar solo, collapsing on his knees in the process.
Staggering back onstage, he collapses again. The crowd is hauled away as a medical team straps the guitarist to an emergency bed – the heart of the infection hauled away from one of the most incredible, flamboyant, bizarre shows of his life.
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The event was a collaboration between Jack White and Punch Drunk theatre, who have just finished a run of new production The Drowned Man.