The Thrill of It All

Review in Issue 22-4 | Winter 2010

Forced Entertainment’s latest show reviewed – twice. Edward Taylor and Alexander Roberts offer their opinions from different viewing points.

The Thrill of It All, following Spectacular and Void Story, is a return to Forced Entertainment’s bigger, messier stage affairs; akin to Bloody Mess and A World in Pictures.

The nine performers take to the stage in grubby white tuxedos and mini-dresses, vinyl boots, and squiffy cheap wigs. Their voices are digitally manipulated through their mics – the men’s ultra-deep, slow and pedantic, the women high, squeaky and almost impossible to listen to. They are positioned as a vaudeville dance ensemble desperate to keep the show alive through a series of chorus dance acts to Japanese lounge music tracks. Unable to leave the stage and framed by a bright white dancefloor, the cast are seemingly trapped in some sort of entertainment torture chamber.

The show has many of the trademarks of a Forced Entertainment work as the ‘dancers’ bashfully negotiate their incapacity for sincerity and a desperate desire to make glossy and consumable entertainment. Thrill of it All, as with much of the work that has preceded it, creates a world that enjoys the beauty of failure and the accomplishments and creativity that come from that. Bad dancing, bad stage-fighting, bad acting, and bad ‘heightened emotional moments’ lead to brilliant dancing, sadistically comic stage-fighting, and incredibly moving heightened moments of emotion. It would also be a crime not to mention the ‘small things…’ game, in which the men competed to generate poetic observations of banal and forgotten small things in life – like ‘a single pea sat on the plate of a giant’.

The environment that they created with Thrill of it All was dark and somewhat contemptuous towards both the cast that performed it and the audience that played along. In many ways it was bold and shrewd, but there was something a little too familiar with it all. I feel I have been there before with this company – a different world, but a similar feeling. In many ways that familiarity does not bother me, but perhaps the company’s reputation requires them to now take it a few steps further. I wanted to see them be more ruinous, more destructive. I guess I was left seeking a greater thrill – and so the perpetuating paradox continues.
Alexander Roberts

Forced Entertainment demand respect. They’ve kept a core team together for 25 years, they tour all over the world, and they consistently produce new work in a variety of forms. No mean feat.

The Thrill of It All is familiar FE territory. It looks like the sort of thing you might find yourself watching in a hotel at four in the morning: the effects of the beer are wearing off, and you’ve turned on the TV to discover a naff variety show on an obscure cable channel. Thrill features intentionally crap choreography, lashings of insincere sincerity, swift changes of mood, and lighting which suggests a world seen in neon.

Although there are some funny moments, it’s pretty much the same show they’ve been doing for years. The performers are excellent, the text is strong, but there was nothing in it that surprised me. They are still going after that desire to portray modern life by both celebrating its ghastliness and exposing the fragile foundations beneath. Their sets use am-dram aesthetics, the stage flats seen the wrong way round with the costumes on a rail. The monologues are a kind of doomed romanticism mixed with cliché. And everything is fake. For me, there was no electricity in the performance.

When I see an agit-prop theatre show I usually wish it acknowledged the complexity of a situation as Forced Entertainment do; but when I see a FE show I sometimes wish they’d drop the ambivalence, get off the fence and name names.

What depressed me was looking around the audience and seeing a lot of other theatre companies and performers – by playing to an audience consisting, in the main, of fellow artists they are boxing themselves in. To earn their mantle of Britain’s best experimental company I’d like to see them throw the kind of approach they ably demonstrated here up in the air and look at new ways an audience can engage with what they are doing. The relationship between art and audience has changed over the last 20 years, and although there is merit in ploughing the same furrow I would like Forced Entertainment to get experimental in a way that doesn’t just press the buttons for academics in a comfy theatre.
Edward Taylor

The reviewers saw the show on separate dates of the tour and wrote about Forced Entertainment’s The Thrill of It All independently, without seeing the other writer’s response. Alexander Roberts saw the show at Warwick Arts Centre, 20 October 2010. Edward Taylor saw the show at Contact Theatre, Manchester, 20 November 2010. www.forcedentertainment.com

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Issue 22-4
p. 26