Forced Entertainment has always dealt with a postmodern deconstruction of the received cultural imperatives of theatre. To take the postmodernism at its most invitingly, mass-culturally parodic: You, Forced Entertainment Hunt the Spirit of the Buffalo. Me, Paleface Fan With Mirrors and Beads. Joking aside, you don't need to offer Forced Entertainment firewater or guns. They have their own arsenal of signifying practices that get right down to the grit and expose our cultural poverty. Over the years, and there are many of them, Forced Entertainment has never gone stale. They have continually come up with something that challenges me, and this latest piece, I don't even dare to call it a performance, is the ultimate step in that challenge. I say I don't dare to call it performance, because it challenges the notion of performance itself in a way they have never done before, even in Speak Bitterness. What are we actually seeing and hearing here? Is it reality or illusion?
Throughout the summer the members of the company have been travelling around the country visiting streets with names like Hope, Death, Achilles or Oracle. And in this piece they are sitting behind a table with microphones recounting experiences and metaphysical ponderings. But is this a performance? Are they talking about real experiences, as this committee-like set up would leave us to believe, or has the imagination re-evaluated those experiences and are we being given a mediated, fictionalised version? The way we see our supposedly objective news bulletins is provoked here. Our entire concept of objective reportage, as well as a fixed and common reality in performance, is called into doubt. Is it confessional? Is it honest?
Of course, it is honest in the most fundamental sense. Nothing that comes out of the devised work of Forced Entertainment is anything but honest. They are the most explicitly and creatively honest theatre company in the United Kingdom. Their work scintillates with honesty from the miasmic and frenetic, but performative, 200% and Bloody Thirsty, to the suicide interview in Showtime, a moment that draws you in so deeply and then lets you know that you are a voyeur of the deepest emotions, a parasite on experience you wouldn't dare to live yourself.
This piece extrapolates from that accusation of voyeurism. It challenged me more than anything else. I felt I was witnessing a stage in their devising process, something that was a starting point in creating a finished performance. They have denied my desire for a performance. The creative burden was shifted to me. I could no longer sit back and enjoy a performance, however challenging, I had to create the finished performance, a plethora of potential performances, in my own imagination, based on their input.
This is the logical extension of Forced Entertainment's work over nearly two decades. I have to admit that there were moments that I found pedestrian. Like the recounting of an experience in Cardiff where the performer on his research trip was putting a door between an assailant that wanted to mug him, who gobbed in his face, and the patients in the doctor's waiting room, where he had escaped, all of whom hid behind newspapers, wanting to be inviolate and refusing to make eye-contact with him. This is a commonplace, clichéd version of modern urban environments, all too familiar, offering nothing more than the mere observations. Also, the performative aspects jarred somewhat. The experiences were sometimes delivered with a sense of profundity that rendered the whole far too precious. Alternatively, as a culture that sublimates and diverts its most serious concerns through humour, I think we must find a medium that engages without accusations of pomposity and elitism, all too rife in our British culture.
I went home frustrated, but frustrated in a way that I wanted to envisage a performance out of the tales I'd been told. It placed that emphasis on my creativity and imagination. And surely these are aspects of our vast human potential so lacking in a globalised, capitalist, consumerist culture in which we repress imagination and creativity for the sake of earning a living, paying the mortgage, and spend our hard-earned cash as consumers of goods, discarded all too soon to pollute the environment, or entertainment that allows us to escape rather than provokes.
While I felt dissatisfied at being denied a performance, Forced Entertainment has come up with trumps again with another challenge..
Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher