Daniel Bye: One-man outbreak

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Leeds-based theatre maker Daniel Bye’s latest one-man show, Going Viral, explores the idea of contagion. He spoke to Nick Ahad about it.

When we speak about his new show, Going Viral, Daniel Bye is coincidentally on a bus and suffering from a cold. He assures me it’s nothing serious, which is comforting given that his latest show is about a disease which is spreading through the passengers on public transport.

Bye, a theatre maker from Middlesbrough who is now based in Leeds, has gained an impressive reputation in recent years for his one-man shows which tackle personal and large political issues.

“Reviews often call what I do ‘performance lecture’ and there are elements of that in my shows, but there is also storytelling, stand- up, live art and, in this show, magic realism,” he says.

If you’ve seen the work of Chris Goode, Chris Thorpe, Daniel 
Kitson, Mark Thomas, even Stewart Lee, you’ll recognise the work of Bye.

His previous shows include the award winning How to Occupy an Oil Rig and the extensively toured The Price of Everything.

You might recognise the starting point of his latest show, Going Viral, if you’re familiar with Hollywood blockbusters like Contagion or Outbreak, which follow the spread across the globe of deadly diseases.

“The show has the story of a disease outbreak running underneath it,” he says.

“But while Contagion looks at the mechanics of a disease spreading and takes an almost journalistic point of view, we have this stream of magic realism running through the show. Hollywood movies tend to tell the story of an outbreak of flu or ebola – which seem to be the two diseases Hollywood has heard of – the disease in this show is an outbreak of weeping.”

That’s right. In Going Viral, Bye starts with passengers on an aeroplane inexplicably weeping and the disease is catching.

“Really the show is taking a look at the inequality of empathy. When there is an outbreak of ebola outside the western world, then the 
news reports and stories are ghoulish and almost titillating, 
it’s not until these diseases 
appear in hospitals in Britain or America that we become properly interested.

“This piece explores the same thing that is explored in all my work, to a greater or lesser degree, which is about the choices we make around how we live together in the world.”

Bye is particularly attracted to the story of a disease spreading because it incorporates the science of the situation, but also the sociological aspects.

“I’m sceptical of the narrative we are presented by mainstream media. The truth is, privilege reinforces itself. I try with my shows to look at these things from a 
point of view that isn’t already familiar.”

That Bye is bringing this show to the Playhouse, just a couple of weeks after it was announced that the building has passed the first step on its path to major redevelopment, is significant.

If all goes to plan, within three years the Playhouse will look quite different, both inside and out and, if the ambitious plans are realised, it will play host to the kind of work Bye is making on a much more regular basis.

He says: “It is really exciting to be bringing my work to what is now my local theatre. I’ve just moved back to Leeds from London, having been based here for ten years after university, so to have my work in a theatre with such standing is a real validation.”

For the Playhouse, it also demonstrates, perhaps, that if it gets all the funding it needs to undergo a major redevelopment, that the city and the region is 
home to the kind of artists that can make work for its stages big and small.

* Daniel Bye’s Going Viral is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on January 21, 22. For tickets call the box office on 0113 213 7700 or to book online visit www.wyp.org.uk