After twenty-five years of fiery protest against narrative, fracturing and fragmenting it through repetition, interruption and contradiction, Forced Entertainment have turned raconteurs to tell a single story from beginning to middle to end.
Ostensibly, Void Story follows a man and a woman as they take flight from an unknown danger through a dystopian world. Having been attacked in and turfed out of their flat, they travel through cities, suburbs and sewers encountering one improbable hazard after another.
This being Forced Entertainment, however, the storyline is treated with such attentive disdain that it becomes a weapon against itself. The flat linearity is so dominant that narrative reduces to a sequence of events churned through, spat out and forgotten. Though Tim Etchells’ forcefully meandering text begins at break-neck speed, by its end – a night spent waiting to hitch a ride; a week-long dance marathon – it has us trapped: boring us but refusing to let us get off.
Void Story exists as a collision of live radio play and crassly cinematic slideshow. As such, the narrative is carried by a cut and paste mosaic of its signifiers, whereby the combination of sound and projected image add up to understanding. When the two fail to translate, Etchells’ text steps in with blank explication, revelling in the stilted melodrama of its language.
The projected pictures are themselves cut and paste collages, giving a peculiarly fractious and anonymous feel to the fictional world. Here, the same faces reappear in a single crowd and buildings echo, rotate and repeat to become a city. The story’s characters are carelessly arranged amalgamations of several people, half-humans with dislocated features. Added to the intangible, untraceable geography and warped sense of time, the result is as disconcerting as it is disorientating.
Yet alongside the dislocation of fiction and realities, often even of sound and image, there is a sharp humour to Void Story. Etchells has clearly enjoyed spinning a yarn of indulgent possibilities – from bear attacks to haunted motels – and bastardized Hollywood cool, though the performance mode itself lacks the usual mischief of Forced Entertainment. This is, in part, due to the use of technology, which removes the personality and struggle from the creation of fiction.
Once again, one could level the accusation that Forced Entertainment have aimed too directly at failure – sculpting a narrative so intentionally inane and psychologically empty that it could do nothing but break, regardless of its presentation. Nonetheless, Void Story is a lushly macabre piece that makes a farce of storytelling.