Forced Entertainment – Experimental Theatre from England
By Liam Klenk
Forced Entertainment creates experimental theatre. The group is based in Sheffield, England, and originally focused on making and touring theatre performances before expanding to long durational performance, live art, video, and digital media. The group’s work has been presented throughout the UK and Europe as well as in Australia, Japan, Canada and the US.
Forced Entertainment were founded in 1984.
They develop projects using a collaborative process – devising work as a group through improvisation, experimentation and debate.
Their core members are Tim Etchells (artistic director), Richard Lowdon (designer and performer), and performers Robin Arthur, Claire Marshall, Cathy Naden, and Terry O’Connor. All of them have been with the company from the start.
As Forced Entertainment themselves state on their website, “Our work is a 35-year collaboration, reinventing theatre to speak about the times we are living in, inspiring audiences in the UK, in Europe, and further afield.”
The group presents a theatre that defies attempts at categorization. Their work is largely based on improvisation whilst at the same time following a rigorous logic.
Among other things, Forced Entertainment’s shows can be defined by fragmentary narration and a deconstruction of character.
Another style element is the misuse or alternate use of traditional scenic tools. Such as costumes, props, and overall set design.
The group states, “The theatre we create is something that needs to be live. Something that generates energy and tension from its presence in a room with other people.”
“We’re interested in making performances that explore the contemporary world, performances that excite, challenge and entertain other people. We care about ideas. At the same time, we seek to create confusion, silence, questions and laughter.”
And it is the entertaining chaos and playfulness of the performances which hold audiences in its spell.
In this short video the members of the group explain their work process…
To give two examples of their work, let’s have a quick look at Bloody Mess and The World in Pictures.
Bloody Mess, created in 2004, manipulated and articulated different subjects in quite a melodramatic form. The show’s content was based on physical science lectures, operettas, clowns, and hard rock concerts. All put together in a disconnected manner which made the show fascinating yet challenging to read for its audiences.
In The World in Pictures, created in 2006, a strangely unnerved female narrator attempted to summarize two thousand years of western history in less than two hours. While she narrated away, the other actors each became an avatar of a historic character, or several for that matter. They joyfully morphed from caveman, to medieval personas, to modern day personalities. The show had the flair of a children’s show parody while at the same time asking important questions about the meaning of our lives.
Here a video from 2016, when Forced Entertainment won the International Ibsen Award.
Forced Entertainment also work with children and young adults in Sheffield and other cities. They offer workshops and longer projects, to help the kids develop creative skills. To further their creative thinking and to encourage them to make performances and other works of their own.
“As well as performance works, we’ve made gallery installations, site-specific pieces, books, photographic collaborations, videos and even a mischievous guided bus tour.”
“We typically develop projects through improvisation and discussion. For us simply trying things out in the rehearsal room is often the best way to find out more about the ideas we are exploring and what the performance potential of the material is.”
“When projects demand it and when resources allow, we expand our team by inviting other artists and performers to join us, bring fresh energy and new ideas to the table.”
“Collaboration – as agreement and as disagreement – is at the heart of everything we do.”
“The long term creative work of the group, co-operating as equals over the years and building up a truly shared language, repertoire, skills and ways of working, is the bedrock of Forced Entertainment.”
In 2020, the group hasn’t been idle either but has instead developed intriguing table top interpretations of famous Shakespeare classics.
Let me share just three examples of Forced Entertainment’s recent bouts of genius here with you.
Complete Works: Tabletop Shakespeare: At Home: Macbeth performed by Richard Lowdon
Complete Works: Tabletop Shakespeare: At Home: Richard III performed by Claire Marshall
Complete Works: Tabletop Shakespeare: At Home: Antony & Cleopatra performed by Cathy Naden
More plays can be found on Forced Entertainment’s YouTube channel.
These are all unique projects, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching over the Christmas holidays.
Who would have ever thought Antony will be portrayed one day by a glass bottle and Cleopatra by a quaint old cup? Whilst Richard III is a rather non-descript, small, humble black flower pot.
“Often described as being experimental or innovative, our work shifts approach from project to project, taking influence from movies, internet, stand-up, dance, bad television, performance art, music culture as well as from theatre itself.”
“What ties the various strands of our work together is that the projects always strive to be vivid and original. Demanding a lot from audiences and giving lot in return.”
Here is to hopefully seeing Forced Entertainment back on a live stage again, soon.