Saturday, January 15, 2011

Forced Entertainment, ‘Void Story’: A Night Out At The Theatre/Cinema/Radio/Etchells

Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Jan 13-14

My review of Void Story coming up just as soon as I look for some leaves with medicinal properties …

Dating back as far as the serenading of Dionysus and the doomed travesties of King Oedipus, theatre’s ability to evoke realities is older than religions, scientific discoveries, and the bloodiest wars. It is an ancient power, one which has been tapped to remarkable results to transport audiences to worlds of narrative. Just as incredible are the abilities of those who are dedicated to delineating onstage chronicles. Disconcerting it is then that after a quarter of a century of dismantling theatrical narrative, Forced Entertainment have come together to actually tell a story. As always with these theatrical hellions, it comes at the cost of convention, but unfortunately with Void Story innovation also pays a price.

At the centre of Void Story is a large screen on which the narrative of the play is projected. Flickr-torn images are collaged together to create a dystopian world where people are mutilated by photo-shop mismatches and cities crumble under the weight of borrowed visuals. Our processed protagonists Kim and Jackson are evicted from their apartment, unaware that the world outside has fallen into disarray as they have no television – which merits no excuse in an age of technological dependency. Several gunshots later the pair are on the run, taking flight through vicious forests, maniacal carnivals and haunted motels in a bid for safety. 

This calamitous climate full of poetically dark mishaps and hilarious cruelty is from the literary artifice of artistic director Tim Etchells. Kim and Jackson are lead through their travels by Etchell’s snarling wit, which drops the characters into disaster after disaster. Yet, this cascade easily loses momentum and our interest. We are prevented from investing in the piece beyond the comic edges of the writing. Perhaps Void Story is too cruel for its own good.

The problem lies in the staging of the play. The chief inquisition of Forced Entertainment to manoeuvre ‘theatricality’ towards that of a more malleable substance is evident here. Four performers are seated below the projector screen. Cathy Naden and Richard Lowdon provide the voices of Kim and Jackson, as Robin Arthur and Terry O’Connor operate sound effects and voice other characters. It is as if we are witnessing a live radio play with added visual graphics.

What is interesting about this set-up is the constant struggle for what is more present: the digital image or the physical actors themselves? If the projected image remains static and has not changed in some time our attention wanders to the performers, as if we are looking for the dynamic between them to fill these cracks in Kim and Jackson’s adventures. Asking questions about ‘spectatorship’ such as these is the pillar of Forced Entertainment’s work, and it is here where the company’s strength lies. However, where as past greats such as Speak Bitterness and Pleasure broke theatrical convention and imagined something new from its wreckage, Void Story really doesn’t do anything with its newfound clay.

Instead of opening a portal to new realisations we really are left in the void, along with two argonauts for whom our sentimentality is denied.   

What did everybody else think? 

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