This is the end, hold your breath and count to ten.

The Vault’s performance space is a fitting location to host one last cabaret before the world comes to an end. The production is situated inside a railway arch reminiscent of a bunker, lacking any decoration and lit only by a few functional looking plastic torches. There’s a hint of the Blitz about it, with the reverberating sound of trains rumbling easily passing for distant bombs being dropped overhead. Cat’s only musical accompanist is a cellist, the highly talented Fraser Parry, who manages to make his towering instrument slip seamlessly through a range of genres throughout the hour.

We open with ‘Skyfall’ interrupted only for a few moments for Cat Loud to tell somebody in her distinctly Scottish accent to get out of the way of her entrance. This sets a tone that the first third of the performance neatly follows; we see-saw between the highly comic and the mildly depressing as Cat explains how we’ve gotten to where we are now. Where we are, of course, being the end of the world as we know it. The satire starts off light, close to home but not too close, with jokes aplenty about riots in protest of Greggs, free AK47 parts alongside your magazine subscription and ex-Guardian journalists scribbling liberal pamphlets with beet juice. It doesn’t take a genius to pick up Cat’s not entirely subtle references to issues which currently feel like hot topics. The erosion of the free press is an obvious one, with fresh articles about the dangers of increasingly sophisticated fake news cropping up every day. Although in all honesty, any society dumb enough to conjure up the frightening threat that is deepfakes through its own perverse desire for increasingly invasive pornography, perhaps is owed an apocalypse or two.

In Cat Loud’s version of The End of the World things pick up speed in the manner of many a science fiction novel. A steady stream of small injustices means that the public becomes accustomed to those in power making choices for the few rather than the many and before you know it the idiots have tripped off the world’s nuclear weapons. Sound a little familiar? This is perhaps what Margaret Attwood would describe as ‘speculative fiction’ rather than sci-fi; a story firmly rooted in the possible. In one of the night’s most haunting performances, Cat Loud sings ‘Why We Build the Wall’ by Anaïs Mitchell which is from the singer’s folk opera concept album (there’s a phrase!) Hadestown [1]. The song asks ‘Why do we build the wall?’ The answer is to keep out ‘the enemy’, and the enemy is ‘poverty’. The wall, in this concept album, is built both to distract and provide work for the common people, and is fuelled by their fear of falling into destitution. Mitchell’s songwriting seems incredibly prophetic, given the album was released in 2010- or perhaps it’s just that Trump is the next in a long line of fools mad with power and so is behaving predictably.

This sensation of humanity’s past stretching out behind us is part of the magic of Cat Loud’s performance. Upon realising the end is nigh she follows the primal instinct to return home, to where she grew up, and embarks on a solo journey through the woods to do so. Along the way she encounters a group sat around a fire and remarks that it feels like there always has been a fire, or something like it, that provides people with a place to come together. Thousands of years ago it was a fire, later developing into bars, speakeasies or such like, but all of which were driven by essentially the same instincts. To be with others, to listen to music and to share stories and to feel together in this human experience. The imagery she conjures of this fireside gathering feels close to that of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, with the dog Buck howling at the moon and feeling ‘his ancestors, dead and dust’ howling ‘down through the centuries and through him’ [2]. What is incredibly touching about Cat Loud’s performance is this sense of the sadness that lies behind this long line of history, a million songs sung around a million fireplaces, drawing to its conclusion.

We are used to the threat of the world ending in our popular media, one could even argue that as a society we’re obsessed with it. The end of the world has been calculated throughout history particular our anxiety around the years 1000AD and the most recent millennium. But this threat is always told to us through the eyes of some daring and extraordinary individual; a super soldier, a scientist or perhaps the president of the United States. In Cat Loud’s version of the end of the world all of these people are safely ensconced in bunkers under the Pennines, being the useful high-priority types viewed as worth saving. The rest of us are left to face the end (or at least our end) as we see fit. Touchingly, in Cat Loud’s imagining this involves people putting on their Sunday best and then seeking out their favourite people. This is, however, with the exception of herself. Like an animal following the instinct to seek its end in privacy, she takes off alone, although there is the implication that the people she might have chosen to spend it with already had more important loved ones in mind. It begs the question – if we knew with certainty that the end was coming, what would us ordinary folk do? I assume that I would choose to spend it with those most important to me, that we would sit together (perhaps around a fire but more likely just my mum’s living room) and see out our final hours listening to music and to each other. However I will say that were I to follow Cat Loud’s lead and instead to walk out into the woods alone, I can only hope my final reflections are half as witty and insightful as her own.

[1] Anaïs Mitchell. “Why We Build The Wall”. Hadestown, Righteous Babe, 2010.

[2] London, Jack. The Call of the Wild. Macmillan, 1903.