Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theatre, Permanent Brain Damage

Review in Issue 9-3 | Autumn 1997

Permanent Brain Damage is best described as visual/installation/performance theatre. As such it is the experience of the performance which matters. The structure of the work – an unfolding of an urban surreal nightmare – was one of loops and returns, set within a stage installation that extended around and above the audience, reflecting a man projecting his despair and melancholia. It seemed to be making a statement about the fracturing and subverting of reality that lies beneath our urban veneer. But meaning, as such, was less important than the experience of the work itself.

Whilst not being empty of substance, in many respects this piece suffered from the weaknesses of similar work. Firstly its meaning was closed, it was self-referential and solipsistic. It extolled a postmodern amorality which puts aesthetics above ethics and political confrontation. It used and evoked many of the key concepts of the avant-garde and surrealism, paying lip service to Artaud, but without any real element of ‘cruelty’. Ultimately not really confronting the audience, but leaving a mild sense of theatrical boldness.

However, these weaknesses were offset by a humour and humanity exemplified by a distinct movement quality which was skilled and throwaway at the same time. The orchestration of the staging and presentation was outstanding. The performance score was fully integrated with all elements locking into each other. The result was a technical and performance standard and consistency far too often lacking in British work. Whilst the issue of meaning and substance remains a problem, it was the enjoyment of the orchestrated performance score which stays with me. I’m not sure what it’s saying but I enjoyed seeing all the elements being put together.

Presenting Festival
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Jun 1997

This article in the magazine

Issue 9-3
p. 23