A piano is rapidly spun around in circles and then used as a prop in a mock hanging; a pile of driftwood is awkwardly carried by a man pretending to be in a forest while another player dresses in an absurd crocodile costume. This is standard fare for the long-standing experimental group Forced Entertainment who have brought their unique and frenetic The Coming Storm back from the continent and straight into the Battersea Arts Centre.
Six performers (Robin Arthur, Phil Hayes, Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall, Cathy Naden and Terry O’Connor) wrestle over one microphone and the chance to tell their own anecdotes. The authenticity of storytelling and plot is instantly put into question by Terry who opens with a laundry list of what “makes a good story”. But Forced Entertainment - as ever under the stewardship of Tim Etchells - are determined to stunt the development of these anecdotes before their audience can get a sense of an over-arching plot.
As we are drawn in by a tale another cast member grabs the microphone, makes a patronising comment and begins on a new topic. Even when a story is allowed to continue it is frequently interrupted by cast members playing the various musical instruments sprawled around the set.
The Coming Storm is certainly minimalist in its presentation and these instruments, along with two racks of clothing and a small number of props, stand out in the vast empty space. Forced Entertainment opt instead to fill this stage with their own frantic energy, Richard Lowdon in particular rapidly moves about the stage, frustrating his fellow performers. Phil Hayes’ stories are wonderfully flippant while Cathy and Robin’s yearning for a story is at times unsettling and at times hilarious. It is in the interaction between these performers and points where the stories falter that the play really shines.
While the piece drags slightly in the last half, the fragmental scenes maintain a quick pace and largely hold our interest. With performers battling each other and attempting to shout over the loud music many lines are lost and background action is unnoticed. But this is exactly what the company intend and in the process they make a bold statement about the delirious nature of contemporary storytelling.
It all ends with a song - an apology from Robin and Terry who acknowledge that it may not have gone to plan. This reminds us that the development of the play itself is a plot-line. Avant garde purists may consider this a compromise or a regression to the very element the play deconstructs. But Forced Entertainment achieve something far more balanced. The Coming Storm simultaneously explodes narrative while endorsing its power to entertain. Such a rare event should be experienced and when you do see it, look in between the spaces and gaps because it is there that lurks a powerful and important piece of theatre.
- Patrick Brennan
The Coming Storm is currently touring to Sheffield, Lancaster, Ipswich, Warwick, Manchester and London for more details visit: www.forcedentertainment.com