As a follower of Forced Entertainment’s work through video streams and available online recordings, I was thrilled to learn that my time in London would overlap their short run of Out of Order at Southbank Centre.
Chairs begin downstage in a line, appearing orderly, while a table sits upstage. The performance space is elevated several feet above the actual stage, with caverns around on all sides. This lasts approximately 30 seconds, before the 6 performers (3 men, 3 women, all wearing identical plaid suits, white shirts, and clown face) enter, and move them. From here, there is incessant movement; while the movement peaks and valleys, even the moments of rest and stillness are filled with the memory of movement.
What follows is an ongoing, highly choreographed yet impulsive and appearing improvised set of games; the actors fight and chase, they play with balloons, and chairs. They lead and follow, repeat and repeat, even when they are visibly questioning the action. At times certain characters have the strength to resist - to sit outside and comment. But this is fleeting, and they are shortly again sucked into following.
There are many layers, and none. Forced regularly do not impose a specific feeling or intention for how a piece should affect, but rather work in layered ideas, providing thoughts into the space, but no real answers, demanding the audience engage and fill in the blanks. At times we are overwhelmed with where to look, or at others pulled into the individual actions of one actor or another, and at yet others sitting, in silence, with our own thoughts. The simultaneous danger and inevitability of following along loomed loud for me in watching this work.
This is Forced’s first piece without words. It is not silent, however; two songs underscore various aspects (again, in repetition), and the rhythm of the balloons, or horns, or boots, or chairs, or even actors breathing, make a compelling score.
As a lovely bonus, the artistic director (Tim Etchells) and the 6 members of the company, shared their thoughts and answered questions in a 30+ minute Q&A following the show. It was exciting to hear some of my own interpretations of their work and ideas for how to engage audiences echoed in their approaches and intent. I’ve said this for years, but again…if you have the chance to see Forced Entertainment’s work in any capacity, do.