Baker takes the stage looking almost sheepish, but wearing the classic white coat over modern career-woman garb. She giggles as she explains that over the next hour she will indeed give us 11 nuggets of advice that will improve our lives, and therefore the world. Her buffoon-like gestures and coy delivery of this significant proposition perfectly illustrate my interpretation of the evening: a deliciously childish guide to life that somehow manages to denounce and celebrate society’s many approaches to coping with mental health.
Baker strips down complicated psychological ideas into casual day-to-day ‘tips’ (‘Undo your rage by acting sweet’) to then refortify them using an almost psychedelic assortment of films, animation, photography and real-time camera work. The results are often hilarious and the advice reassuringly casual – Baker’s facial expressions send up even the most serious of statements.
Whereas I only tried to empathize with a pea, Baker at one stage physically becomes one – imagine a super-sized primary school play tomato costume (though pea-green…). The pea learns how to make its feelings known, be charming, take note of the details in life (‘it’s all in the detail’) and all the time maintain its humility. The pea, back to its normal size (Baker returns to her white coat) becomes so de-shelled that it is moved to sing a solo number, alone in the centre of the stage. I’m not sure if I should have been moved by this.
For all its wackiness, and equally its earnestness, How to Live reminds us that there’s an awful lot of powerful theory out there that when put into practice can at the same time be simple, stupid, daunting and delightful.