Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 2nd October, 2014


Forced Entertainment’s new show makes for another unusual night at the theatre. On the surface it is unstructured and free-form – a free-for-all, even! But as it goes on, the shape of the piece emerges.

It begins with a kind of classroom situation. Two instructors face a dozen ‘students’ who repeat everything they say: facts and aphorisms that become increasingly surreal or ridiculous. Music and sound from the onstage performer (KK Null) encroaches – dissonant and above all: loud. The class breaks up. One by one they fetch cut-outs of leafless trees from the back wall and build a forest that moves and glides around the stage… Someone brings on a couple of wooden chests: dressing-up boxes from which the cast withdraw items of clothing and props: household items like saucepans and mops.

Soldiers emerge. The cast play at war. Here the piece is like watching a children’s playground. Like children, the actors transform the objects through imagination. A pan becomes a helmet, a broom a gun. Lengths of red ribbon represent bloodshed. The imagery is familiar to us all. Horrific images emerge: a couple with sacks on their heads are gunned down as they flee. There is humour two: a gunman has trouble getting a quartet of skeletons to put their hands in the air…

Absorbed in their individual scenarios, the actors/kids tear around, unselfconscious in their imaginative play. Other characters materialise: medieval princesses in tall coned hats, kings in tinfoil crowns… Cut out pieces become a dragon… The scenes change gradually – there is a lot of running to and fro and they don’t half make a mess – but eventually the child’s-play gives way to something more beautiful. Stylised clouds form a skyscape. Cut-out waves become a rolling sea…

For the most part, the sound and music design jars with the action, keeping us alienated and distant. Silence when it comes is more effective.

As a whole, it’s a surreal landscape, populated with childhood memories but I think it dwells too much on individual sequences. The point made, it should move on to the next, but sections are drawn out unnecessarily, I feel. There is value in repetition and its cumulative effect, but it’s a fine balance between effectiveness and disengaging.

For me, it’s the playground as metaphor for human endeavour. Watching the ‘kids’ at play, it feels like a Grown-up should appear to restore order or tell them all off, but it never happens. Just as there is no God who intervenes in human affairs – affairs which are just like silly games when compared to elemental or cosmic power.

It’s a challenging watch and not an easy listen but yet again Forced Entertainment deliver an original piece of theatre where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.


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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