Tramway, Glasgow, Thu 4–Sat 6 Dec
Contemporary Western Culture is at a greater distance from death than any that parallels or precedes it. While we endlessly represent death in movies, television and the theatre, these fictionalised, sanitised versions of an event all of us are moving toward barely touch the reality of the experience. Even our news coverage is edited for political reasons to avoid the real-life carnage that news cameras capture in such events as the Vietnam war. Meanwhile, the removal of all of the context in which the act of death occurs proceeds apace in endless spectacular, violent Hollywood films.
In this context, Spectacular is the perfect title for Forced Entertainment’s new piece on death and how we represent it in the theatre and the mass media. In it, a figure dressed in a skeleton suit bounces onto the stage and performs a big theatrical schtick, yet begins to wonder why the audience is reacting differently tonight. He reflects upon previous nights, and seems to expect show tunes and dancing girls, but is accompanied only by a prone figure, a woman seeming to exhale her last tortured breaths into a microphone. Tim Etchells, long-time director of this acclaimed and innovative company explains: ‘A lot of this is about the contrast of what we expect from a show and what the reality represented really is.’
The Forced Entertainment team often display a certain rawness in their work, which explores what we expect from theatre, using techniques such as pastiche and parody to achieve profound effects. The process, for Etchells, is as important as the finished product, and is perhaps key to the freshness of the work. We tend to start from a theme, but no other ideas,’ he says. ‘For me that’s how we work. We chat away, for example on this occasion, about what it would mean to die, and from there we develop those ideas over weeks. Sometimes we go back to the first idea, sometimes it changes completely. But we don’t sit down and say, before we start, this is going to be a play about blah, blah, blah.’