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A CurtainUp London Review
It is not difficult to see why this supremely chaotic show has been chosen as their commemorative flagship. Tim Etchells, the Forced Entertainment's founder and director, writes: "For us, the mess and its structured exuberance is something of a manifesto; an insistence that theatre can be more than drab story or literary rhetoric, that its heart lies in play, in liveness and in the event".
Certainly, no one could accuse this show of drabness. The evening begins with two solemn clowns silently battling as they rearrange chairs in an ode to anti-teamwork. They gradually and meticulously speed up, until it descends into violence and an all-out chair war. When the chairs are finally arranged in a row facing the audience, the rest of the company emerge to take position and introduce themselves. In turn, they take the microphone and, in caricatures of the individual artistic ego, they each tell us their own aspirations for their performance. For example, one wants to be a sensitive but virile romantic lead, another just a virile one. One hopes that he will be seen as symbolic, another as enigmatic. One is convinced that he is the star, another that the whole audience will desire her. One of the morose clowns tells us simply: "Hello, good evening, my name is Bruno. I hope you will find me very, very funny".
The following action is amorphous and fragmentary, confusing and electrifying. In coexistent but distinctly individualistic vignettes the actors each do their own thing. Among others, there is a delinquent, popcorn-throwing gorilla, one clown who does impressions of weapons and another who tries to tell the history of the earth. A "beautiful silence" is thwarted by the disruptive interruptions of the others. Cataclysmic shifts of tone abound. At one point, the peppy cheerleader takes her peppy encouragement too far as the clowns fight: "Beat him to a pulp, Bruno!" There is a deliberate lack of artistic coherence or integrity, a celebration of shambolic unruliness or, in other words, mess.
The show encompasses a breathtaking emotive range: there are moments which are terrible, uproarious and sublime. It will make you laugh, frustrate you, anger you, unsettle you and move you. Having said this, it was divisive performance. Quite a few of the audience walked out, but a similar number gave it a standing ovation.
This company is energetic, spectacular and ridiculous. They wrench the audience from black humour into unexpected despair. A definite taste for the absurd is required for this outlandish, defiantly anarchic evening from one of the most important innovative theatre companies in Britain. For gluttons of chaos, Forced Entertainment is presenting their London premiere of Exquisite Pain developed from work by the French conceptual artist Sophie Calle, alongside Bloody Mess.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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