I gorged myself on Forced Entertainment treats a few weeks ago, both showing as part of the Spill Festival in London. First up was ‘Exquisite Pain’ from a text by Sophie Calle: over 2 hours of one woman telling the same story again and again – sounds painful – but actually very engaging. Her story of being stood up in a hotel room in Delhi by her boyfriend, who’s woosed out of joining her with the excuse of an infected finger (really he’s started seeing someone else), is interspersed by other people’s stories of when they had suffered the most pain in their lives. These are told by the male performer, there are only 2 performers on stage, and they both utilise the studied FE style of antiperformative, presentational delivery. Fascinating and moving at times, I can still remember almost all the details from the woman’s story (well I did hear it about 40 times!)
Second was ‘And on the Thousandth Night’, a six hour durational performance. I didn’t stay for the whole thing, but dipped in and out twice. I think quite a lot of the audience did stay for the whole lot, and actually if I’d brought a picnic (like the performers onstage) I’d have been happy to sit through it in its entirety. The 9 or so performers sit on chairs in a line at the front of stage wearing home-made cardboard crowns and makeshift red velvet robes. They start stories, and are interrupted by another performer with "stop", who then start their own story, and the pattern continues. They vary the pace, the subject matter, comic and tragic both get a look in. Sometimes performers follow on from each other in subject matter, idea or character; sometimes they tell the same story but from a different perspective; sometimes they go doggedly back to a story they were trying to tell earlier. By the final hour, they’d all cracked open a beer, and were at that slightly hysterical stage that you get to at the end of a party – 3am, tired, drunk but sobering up, having deep conversations interspersed with hysterical giggling. There was a relaxed acknowledgment between performers and audience, and it felt like everyone was having a laugh together. FE may now have spawned hundreds of copycat shows by graduates who’ve studied them at University, but it doesn’t make what they do any less engaging, clever, and downright dedicated.