Plays devised by committee by their nature have to include contributions from all involved. The result can be an unwieldy and self-satisfied production. The Coming Storm is conceived and devised by the six members of Forced Entertainment and director Tim Etchells is reluctant to impose discipline or offer clarity. The result is a show with a childlike sense of anarchy but one that is over-long and confusing.
Ironically the show opens with a monologue on the elements that are required for a good story. Gradually each of the company begins (but rarely finishes) their own story and interrupts and criticises those of others. The tales vary from surreal to mundane and there is repetition – a ‘Sophie's Choice' type story crops up twice. The cast take the opportunity, during one particularly dull tale, to erect the stage set and, from that point on, the stories take place against interruptions from sound and visual distractions in the background.
The Coming Storm seems to make a number of points but it is hard to be sure if they are intentional. The ability of the listener to shape and influence a tale is shown when a profound deathbed story is interrupted by a series of trivial questions. A speaker so wrapped up in his own eloquence that he doesn't notice a suicide attempt in the background shows that storytelling which ignores the audience is a selfish act.
The play demonstrates that speech will fail to communicate if there is physical comedy or noise in the background. You certainly can't concentrate on the stories with all the sodding distractions going on in the play. Perhaps the play is meant to illustrate the difficulty in communicating effectively but, to be honest, it becomes very hard to care.
The Coming Storm is fitfully amusing but nowhere near as much as the cast seem to think. The background antics soon start to become irritating. All of the stories, and the show itself, go on so long that they become dull. The lack of a clear point leads to a very weak ending. Throughout the production you are reminded of the exasperated advice of the great Steve Martin: when telling stories have a point – it makes it so much more interesting for the listener!
- Dave Cunningham