Six Actors in search of a Story

Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 6th November, 2012

Forced Entertainment’s new show is a curious thing, not really a play but more of a performance piece. The cast of six line up across a stage that looks like a rehearsal space. One (Terry O’Connor) picks up a microphone on a long cable and relates a long monologue, listing the qualities of a good story. Her delivery is deadpan and monotonous (setting the tone for the entire show) and from this delivery much of the show’s humour arises.

At long last, she is interrupted when another cast member snatches the mic, establishing a convention along the lines of ‘the talking stick’ – whoever has the mic tells the story. This story is soon curtailed when someone else snatches the mic…and on it goes. Eventually, the line breaks up. Actors fetch clothes and wigs from the costume rails at the sides. A piano is wheeled centre stage. A drum kit is assembled.

One by one they launch into their narratives and we the audience get caught up in some of them, only to find the story snatched away along with the mic. Other stories are more mundane and banal. They do not seize our attention and so we watch the non-speakers as they change costumes or engage in comic business, or we listen to the music they play. For example when Robin Arthur relates his story (I can’t even recall what it was about) we are distracted by Richard Lowdon with a sack on his head, repeatedly failing to hang himself.

It may seem unfocussed but it’s an exercise in misdirection. When the story is engaging, we don’t notice the tomfoolery of the others. In this manner, the list of story qualities is demonstrated and played out.

Repetition begins to seep in. The cast question and criticise each other’s stories. It soon becomes somewhat wearing. We get two hours of this, and while the accumulative effect is amusing and interesting to note in a slightly surreal and gently absurdist way, in the end I wanted the show to lead somewhere. You can only thwart our expectations so many times.

Cathy Naden breaks the deadpan delivery in her critique of Richard’s story, injecting tension – which soon collapses when she decides to narrate a scene in Russian. Claire Marshall is very funny as a narrator and as an interpretative dancer, forever rising and sinking behind the piano. Phil Hayes makes an hilarious crocodile a propos of nothing and Terry O’Connor’ s ghost dance is a highlight. For me the funniest moment was Richard Lowdon’s ‘man in the electric chair’ dance.

It’s all a bit bizarre and mildly silly.

But what is it saying?

Telling a story imposes an order on a random world. It is a way to organise thoughts and define events. But there are things going on outside the story. Life is not neatly rounded off and satisfactorily resolved. We are all vying for attention; we all have a story to tell, a world-view to relate.


The title teases at ominous events that never happen. It’s a narrative hook just like all the others used in the show. Director Tim Etchells provides an amusing couple of hours (with no break) and I guess it’s for us to impose our own interpretation and meaning onto it.


About williamstafford

Novelist (Brough & Miller, sci fi, historical fantasy) Theatre critic and Actor - I can often be found walking the streets of Stratford upon Avon in the guise of the Bard! View all posts by williamstafford

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