Thursday, 29 November 2012

Neon Friday - review

Written by: Ed Theakston (@EdTheakston)

Battersea Arts Centre, London

Forced Entertainment have a unique reputation for creating theatre that pushes the boundaries of what an audience might expect a theatre production to do. To call this a theatre production would not do Forced Entertainment and artistic director Tim Etchell’s Neon Friday justice; it was a night of varied entertainments in a neon-filled building. There was something very special about the atmosphere the evening created in a bustling BAC.

At the centre of the evening was a double bill of new plays; The Coming Storm and Sight is the Sense that Dying People Tend to Lose First... The Coming Storm came first, devised by the company and directed by Etchells. Centring on ideas of storytelling: the dry, deadpan, witty sense of humour that often underpins Forced Entertainment’s work shines throughout. The company’s interest in confusion is also present making it hard to predict the direction of the show, but that’s for the best; it fragments and shoots off on all sorts of tangential storylines, images, scenes and musical interludes.

At times the piece feels like a study in distraction, focus, and juxtaposition. The six cast members fight for the microphone that enables their story to be heard, and when one succeeds, the others do something entirely contrasting to the story being told. Fascinatingly we are not fed any singular complete linear narrative, but are instead given the seeds of a multitude of stories, situations and characters that spark off all sorts of associations, imaginings and thoughts. The feeling of uncertainty in the apparent freeness of the performances avoids feeling contrived. At times there is a lack of emotional development; within this structure there is the possibility of mining a whole load of emotional gems, but sadly this is somewhat unexplored, leaving it feeling a little monotone.

Sight is the Sense that Dying People Tend to Lose First…, a monologue written and directed by Tim Etchells, continues on a theme The Coming Storm establishes. That is, attempting to find meaning, understanding and structure in the chaos and disorder of contemporary living. Performed by an unwavering Jim Fletcher, it showcases Etchell’s customary deadpan and wry humour in an intriguing and captivating performance. Written in a free-associating, stream-of-consciousness style, it takes the form of an interminable list of statements that are often curiously inaccurate, or banal yet absorbing. It builds to a point where the scope is so vast and the precision so infinitesimal that it becomes an analysis of the human condition. The man on stage seems to be searching for some way of comprehending the turmoil and madness in the world he sees. It is perhaps overly long, as the difficult, repetitive structure can become irksome.

Surrounding these two pieces were readings by Etchells from the web project Vacuum Days, the installation of neon signs and quotes from the various pieces scattered around the characterful BAC, music from DJs in the bar, and some curiously named cocktails. Vacuum Days is a collection of various, fictional announcements of events related to the real happenings of 2011 which has Etchell’s humour stamped all over it, as well as some truly cutting political comment.

Neon Friday was a peculiar night that had a bizarre yet special atmosphere. It is by no means ‘perfect’, but it would be odd to find this kind of work flawless. It’s deliberately raw, deliberately fractured, and deliberately subjective. The experimental work of Forced Entertainment is always something to watch, and this night is no exception, although at times the rigorous emotional punch and vigour of the company’s previous work felt absent. All of the pieces on show – including Etchells’ book – are certainly worth a look. If you ever get the opportunity to see any of Forced Entertainment’s work, it would be madness to say no!

Forced Entertainment are at BAC until 1 December 2012. 
@battersea_arts @ForcedEnts

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