What will the world look like in the future? It's one of those questions that perpetually haunts human civilization, right up there with "why are we here?". From dystopia to sci-fi, climate science to Tomorrow's World, we're obsessed with contemplating the horizon.
This obsession is the substance of Forced Entertainment's new show, which dreams up an overwhelming range of answers to that opening question. Perhaps the human race will have died out. Perhaps the planet will be run by women. Perhaps we'll have wallpaper that changes colour. Or perhaps it will all be pretty much the same as it is now.
These imaginings and speculations tumble one after another from the mouths of Forced Entertainment's two performers (a different pair from the company each night) in what is perhaps best described as a directed stream of consciousness. Each construction is a response to the idea of the future, but they are by turns thoughtful and banal, playful and gloomy, short and drawn out. The deceptively fluid form of the piece follows in the familiar Forced Entertainment tradition of list making, each thought linked to its predecessor by only the slimmest of threads. The performers, meanwhile, flit between the roles of collaborators and competitors as they stand on a platform beneath a garland of coloured light bulbs, exchanging occasional smiles and rolls of the eyes.
As for their visions of the future, there is a delicate, ambivalent balance between optimism and pessimism, with the tendency to lean slightly towards the latter. All the tropes of sci-fi and dystopia are present and correct, though often with cheekily inventive twists. The predictions, while contradicting one another at every turn, are also impressively comprehensive, addressing the likes of politics, sex, travel, technology, crime, religion, surveillance, the environment – the list goes on. But, as with any subject this open-ended, length and breadth become almost irrelevant; whatever the size of the snapshot Forced Entertainment offer us, it can never expand to fit all our hopes and fears for what lies ahead.
Ironically for a show so concerned with the future, time feels almost suspended for the duration of these insistent conjectures. There is a distinct ebb and flow to the rhythm of the piece, which subtly shifts its pace throughout, but there is still at times the sense of being flooded with possibilities to the extent that none leave any significant residue. As with the relentless questions and answers of the company's durational show Quizoola!, the danger of over-abundance – however appealing in itself – is that the sheer volume of contrasting content renders it all essentially meaningless.
The insight we are offered, however, is perhaps more into ourselves than our successors. As is frequently observed, visions of the future – like formulations of the past – are often deeply revealing about the state of the present. What Forced Entertainment reveal through their speculations is both an anxiety about personal legacy and a fear of death that is falsely deferred by looking forwards. How will people look back on the way we live now? What impact will our decisions have on the direction of the world? How will we make our mark? These turn out to be the questions that really matter, as the lights gradually dim and the time that has been stretched out before us abruptly contracts.
Tomorrow's Parties runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 23 November.