Tag Archives: Forced Entertainment

Twins Pique


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 8th March, 2016

Forced Entertainment’s current tour is their adaptation of Agota Kristof’s novel about twin brothers sent to live on their grandmother’s farm during the War. Facing extreme hardships of poverty and physical labour, the boys’ bond becomes stronger as the world around them, as seen through their eyes, becomes darker and more dangerous.

They record their experiences in the titular notebook, restricting themselves to a purely factual approach. Their matter-of-face account is at turns funny, stark, and disturbing.

The staging could hardly be simpler. Two actors dressed identically represent the unnamed twins (although at first sight I think of them as Gilbert and George!). They narrate, reading from notebooks, sometimes in unison, sometimes in turn. Director Tim Etchells keeps the focus on the storytelling – the actors have very little else to do other than to tell the story – but he keeps things from becoming too static by having them rearrange their pair of chairs for different chapters’ different settings.

The overall effect is utterly compelling.

Robin Arthur and Richard Lowdon deliver the twins’ story with the clarity and forthright manner of precocious children. Incidents amuse, repel, shock and horrify – the boys’ humanity is between the lines they read. They develop their own moral code, born out of the physical and sexual abuses inflicted on them and the horrors they see perpetrated as the War encroaches deeper into their little world.  You wouldn’t want to cross them or stand in their way, is all I’m saying.

The timing is impeccable, in terms of the speaking in unison and the lengths of the silences that punctuate the more graphic or affecting scenes. Subtle changes in the lighting (designed by Jim Harrison) add to the sense of time, place and mood, almost imperceptibly, in a story that is for the most part played out in our mind’s eye. This may be theatre stripped to its bare bones but in our heads, the richness of the story, evoked by accomplished and captivating narrators, carries us along to a stark and moving resolution.

I did find, however, it is a bit long. Two and a half hours without a break. Of course, an interval would have disrupted the flow and the world-building in our imaginations, I appreciate that – my mind was engaged and my emotions stirred but also my bum was well and truly numbed!

The Notebook Forced Entertainment_credit Hugo Glendinning

Proclaimers: Robin Arthur and Richard Lowdon (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)





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.


Double Visions


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 23rd October, 2013

A string of coloured light bulbs festoons the performance area.  A man and a woman step onto a pallet.  They take it in turns to describe alternative versions of the future, contradicting each other for the most part, but sometimes complementing what the other has said.  In the future we will have personal jet packs.  In the future we will eat pills for meals.  All of those ideas are here but also many, many more inventive and original ones.  Visions of societies, dystopian, utopian, totalitarian, libertarian, every- which-way-ian, are evoked for our consideration.

And that’s it.  Nothing happens.  This is not a play but a discourse – and a very entertaining one it turns out to be.  Amusing, interesting, thought-provoking and imagination-tickling, the ideas they predict are of course reflections of how we live now.  Some ideas are extrapolations, logical extensions of situations or policies of our time.  Other moments directly address societal or global issues.  In the future, they will look back to this time and say it was a golden time.  Or it was the boring bit.  Or they will say ‘How could they tolerate this?  How could they let it happen?’

The ideas come thick and fast.  Subtly the lighting changes.  The construction of the piece eventually reveals itself.  We are focussing in on a bleak assessment of human existence, of the impermanence of civilisations, and the transience of life itself.

For just over an hour, you sit there in turns delighted, bemused, horrified and chilled by the futures sketched out for us.  The performers are engaging even though they never move from their shared pallet and keep gestures and gesticulations to a minimum.  Frankly, I could have listened to them for much longer.

Alas, I can’t put names to them.  Each performance, the programme reveals, is delivered by any two of five members of the company, who devised the piece between them.  Directed by Tim Etchells, Tomorrow’s Parties is another example of why Forced Entertainment is an entertaining force to be reckoned with.


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.