I must confess to an indecent level of excitement in anticipating the arrival of Forced Entertainment’s new show (I use the word hesitantly) at the Soho Theatre in London next month. The company’s blurb promise “haunted wildernesses, backstreets and bewildering funfairs”, a night so intense that stars themselves hide. It’s going to be fun.
If most theatre is about creating the necessary disbelief to summon the story it is telling into being, then Tim Etchells and Forced Entertainment’s is no ordinary theatre. I’ve found them in strange places over the years: a wintry attic by the Thames engaged in a seemingly endless question-and-answer game; I’ve heard them confess to genocide and reading each other’s diaries; and on at least two occasions, they have predicted my death and those of many of others who’d attended First Night (2001), a piece of dark entertainment that naughtily masqueraded as a vaudeville show. In Bloody Mess (2004), I’ve seen them summon up the beginning – and the end – of the world, a process that involved disco dancing and naked men discussing types of silence; and a manic woman in a cheap gorilla suit pelting the audience with sweets and popcorn.
True, most people don’t go for a night out to be reminded of the inevitable, and the cod fortune-telling of First Night is met with gales of uneasy laughter. But in this Sheffield-based group’s carefully controlled pandemonium and dangerous humours, there is a strange complicity with the audience. Something strong is shared when the screen of traditional narrative structures is dispensed with. Watching Quizoola! (1996) one Saturday afternoon in 2001 in that rain-sodden attic, I felt like I’d arrived at the end of the world; and when the last light was turned off in Bloody Mess, the sudden loss was overwhelming.
John Avery has written a sparse and atmospheric score that haunts Void Story all the more. In these surreal and decentered times, what could be more suitable than this bleak cautionary tale.