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That Night Follows Day

Tim Etchells and Victoria
Forced Entertainment, presented as part of SPILL Festival of Performance
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
(2009)

That Night Follows Day

How does the adult population treat children and young people? How do we learn the myriad of things necessary to be a functioning adult - or a functioning child? And how does that make the children who are constantly being fed information and instructions feel?

Victoria, a Belgian-based company who have produced a string of productions involving children for an adult audience, commissioned Tim Etchells to create That Night Follows Day. Performed by sixteen Flemish children, the piece (which he has created with them) explores how children's lives are affected by the adult world which surrounds them.

The chaotic shrieks and giggles of a playground, coupled with Richard Lowdon's set of a typical PE hall, immediately plonk us in our own childhood. Or if you live near a school, just remind you of home. Indeed, having worked in a primary school, I am always impressed by how much noise a group of children seem to create effortlessly as soon as they're running free.

But are they ever running free? As the composed and self-assured performers line up at front the front of the stage, seemingly sizing us up, they begin a tirade of observations about how us adults treat them, from the banal 'You feed us. You dress us' to the more philosophical 'You explain to us what love is'. Powerful choral chants create the collective voice of 'the children', with more personal monologues allowing us glimpses into the individuals who have come together to think about how they are being formed as people.

What an experience this must have been for the collective of young performers! How many children get the opportunity to engage with the complex issues around how, as people, we learn and develop our thoughts, opinions and most poignantly our prejudices? When a sweet-looking, short blonde girl exclaims something like 'You tell us Aunt Jane is fat. And that Rosie looks like a tart in that dress', it's a simple revelation as to how we learn to be judgemental of others around us.

As with much of Etchell's work with Forced Entertainment (currently celebrating 25 years of challenging performances), the piece is endurance-based and repetitive. The text is simple and clear, but after an hour of these short, sharp sentences we become aware of how much we both tell children and how what we don't tell them influences their maturity.

Do you remember being told 'Later - not now - you'll understand when you're older'? If you're a teacher perhaps you find yourself doing and saying all those things that you hated as a student yourself. That is the heart of the performance. Perhaps there's another way of engaging with young people?

As part of the excellent SPILL Festival, That Night Follows Day is thought-provoking, infuriating, challenging, frustrating and ultimately, truthful.

Reviewer: Terry O'Donovan