Forced Entertainment, Dirty Work

Review in Issue 11-1 | Spring 1999

Forced Entertainment are not known as ‘experimental’ for nothing, and in Dirty Work they push the boat out to stage a play that lacks characters, action, narrative or movement. Tim Etchells calls it: ‘a performance that never really takes place’.

Dirty Work is an extended prose poem that catalogues everything from the grandest dramatic themes (atomic explosions, famous assassinations, natural disasters) to the most mundane. The company bravely take their love affair with language to its logical extreme to stage a performance that is purely textual. The cataclysmic and epic events touched on in the text are deliberately placed at odds with a static and undramatic style of presentation. The setting, a wooden stage with swagged curtains, indicates a theatricality that is purposefully lacking. Cathy Naden and Robin Arthur take turns to speak the text in a tone modulated to strip it of meaning, whilst a heavily pregnant Claire Marshall watches dispassionately from the back of the stage, spinning scratched discs on an ancient record player.

The text, as one expects from Forced Entertainment, is seductive and enigmatic. Complex and unconnected fragments are tightly packed and randomly ordered. This literary bombardment ought to allow the viewer to lose themselves in the text. However, the hypnotic spell is broken by the monotone and school teacherly way in which it is spoken. Dirty Work does not live up to the brilliance of the company’s best work, particularly Speak Bitterness, whose style it most closely echoes. But it is a fascinating attempt by a consistently challenging theatre company to pare down its performance vocabulary to the barest minimum.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Jan 1999

This article in the magazine

Issue 11-1
p. 25