So the point is I can’t really objectively review a performance by a company who I’ve seen nearly twenty times when, in a way, they’re almost all a continuation of the same performance, it’s just sometimes they’re all sat down talking quietly and sometimes they’re all running about and shouting. I was talking to Tim Etchells, their director/writer/dramaturg/top lad afterwards and he said it’s like a very slow soap opera, and he’s right, the relationships between the performers evolve like those in a soap. It was fascinating watching Jerry being in charge and pushing the newbies about when it doesn’t seem so long since he was the debutante being abused. But still, Richard is the first to break from the initial structure, Cathy and Claire hold everything together and Terri is the chaos provider in the slightly shorter skirt, “what if heroin wasn’t addictive?”
This is, in my personal taxonomy of forced entertainment shows at least, a shouty show rather than a talky show, but it’s much better realised than the last couple of shouty shows, the music is much more sympathetic and less obvious (no 20th Century Boy here, just random Japanese lounge tracks). It’s knockabout, in a good way, not weighed down by Big Themes (although obviously it’s still all about death, as all Forced Ents shows are*). I wonder if the discipline of having to learn dances has made them really cut to the chase with the other bits, to be more focussed on what these characters are on stage for, which I thought World in Pictures (the last big shouty show from 2006) in particular was lacking. I was laughing throughout, although many of these jokes may have been only in my head.
What was fascinating was the number of walkouts. There’s always one or two who have seen a non-specific review or come along with their mates and expect A Play, which it isn’t, but there were probably twenty who were mainly, according to my sources, students from one particular performance course [cough]Sussex[cough] which I find mind-boggling. When we first saw forced ents in 92 (possibly 93) we spent the rest of our time at college shamelessly ripping them off because they opened so many new doors for us, so to walk out an hour in (the show was 100 minutes without interval) is, at its basest, to miss stuff you can nick. If there are more exciting and innovative companies out there I really want to know about them, is it just because the performers are mainly in their 40s now? That The Kids don’t get it? But really, who does theatre (-based performance, for want of a better phrase) better?
I keep on meaning to send Stewart Lee an email asking if he’s aware of them as large chunks of the philosophical parts of his (groundbreaking, awesome) book sound remarkably like Tim Etchells’ approach to performance, I wonder if this is part of the overarching “Mark E Smith is the centre of all that is interesting” theory as both Stew and Tim have confessed to early Fall performances having a big influence on their thinking…
The Thrill of it All continues at the Riverside, Hammersmith until 6 November, then Contact in Manchester, Rotterdam and Vienna!
Both photos by Hugo Glendinning.
*the 90s shows were about drinking, sex and death, but drinking and sex are less apparent now, particularly drinking