We are in the rubble of a story.
Since 1984 Forced Entertainment have been breaking down theatrical boundaries by shifting the focus from narratively engendered performance to a new form of deconstructed story telling. Marking the company’s 30th anniversary, the UK premiere of ‘The Last Adventures’ illustrates no signs of slowing down,. It is a wondrous mix of choreographed chaos, soundscape and scenery all beguilingly complex and compelling; it’s a theatrical joy ride of epic scale.
Seemingly unaware of the presence of an audience the cast gently chatters, one by one they sit down until a classroom led by two interlocutors is constructed. A performer at the head of the class loudly announces “Animals are not people!” and a uniformed chorus starts up, repeating this declaration. A moment of silence is followed by the performer striking up again “People are animals!” A short burst of laughter dances across the audience who begin to realise the comical word play ahead. A series of statements follow, each progressively more obtuse, until the pace of utterance becomes aggressive and rhythmical. A feeling of uneasiness starts to take hold, enhanced by the imposing score collaboratively created with sound artist Tarek Atoui. As each performer stands and walks away, a crescendo of noise eventually drowns out the last desperately chanting voice. The transition from speech into nonsense and finally into noise is a quiet yet critical problematisation of language. The ridiculousness of having to enforce the learning of language via relational meanings becomes comically evident. It is also, however, disturbingly poignant, raising questions of imprisonment and radicalisation.
The underlying sense of disturbance continues with a breakout into a violent display of soldier play. Furnished with the contents of a dressing up box, the cast adorns a wealth of accouterments: saucepans and colanders for helmets and brooms and sticks for weapons. Reminiscent of space-race fanatics and the immature games of children, the carefully devised interplay of frolicking cast members dancing around each other quickly descends into violence. Swathes of red ribbon fly through the air and stream from the wounds of stabbed and quivering bodies, while others gleefully dance and torment the injured. Though not explicit the timing of this piece in the centenary year of the First World War, highlights the pleasure and displeasure in playing violence as well as the contemporary appetite for its theatrical representation. Highly affecting in its chaos the scene creates a division of audience laughter and solemnity, sparking a questioning of the occasional inappropriateness of viewer response.
The naivety of homemade staging appears central to the performance, enhancing the multiple uses of the actor as both character and scenery. Focused around a series of simplistic natural scenic motifs, including a forest, the ocean and the sky, the cast remains a chorus for the duration; there is no ‘hero’ of a traditional narrative. The idea of people as scenery or actors lost in scenery is clearly a vital to the creative dynamo of this production. Referencing the everyday and the painted landscapes of Hieronymus Bosch in which the eye is never guided to a point of focus, the viewer is instead privileged with the ability to dart across scenes, choosing from a varied array of delights and intrigues.
Visually intense and sonically demanding, ‘The Last Adventures’ inspires a reflection on the ever changeable boundaries of theatre and what can be achieved through the breaking down of limitations. A comical, sensuous and captivating work, it breaks new ground in performative live art raising questions about how theatre should look or should be.