October 2014 | Warwick Arts Centre / Fierce Festival
For me, one of the most anticipated pieces of theatre this year, Forced Entertainment’s newest addition to their repertoire seemed to promise something exciting, mystical, and- naturally- full of adventure. This, coupled with the fact I had a pretty tedious 5 hour round trip to Warwick Arts Centre led me to hope I wouldn’t be disappointed…
Of course, I never really imagined I’d be disappointed. True to form, this latest collaboration with Lebanese sound artist Tarek Atoui provided a lavish, indulgent visual and aural feast, as The Last Adventures ripped through the West Midlands. I was initially perplexed by the decision to leave London, and wasn’t quite sure how Warwick Arts Centre would work. For those who haven’t been, it is quite a cosy, lecture style theatre and I feared this might subdue both audience and performer. I couldn’t have been more wrong; it was great to see FE back on a big stage with room to run and roll. Atoui’s unique soundscoring breathed a pulsating energy through the space, creating undulations reflected in the changing momentum of both performers and objects.
It’s hard to know where to start as always, but the stand out feature of this production for me was the choral work throughout. Simon McBurney’s Complicite have a thing or two to learn from FE. Rarely have I been so impressed by a whole ensemble as I was here. The complicit energy between performers/performers performers/objects objects/objects has a natural-ity (new word for you there) about it that makes it that much more ‘real.’
This is seen most clearly in the forest motif I’m going to call ‘Dunsinane.’ Ten points for getting the reference; I’m sure Etchells noticed it in rehearsal… A complex motif of trees moving around the stage is visually yummy. Each tree carries it’s own persona, an embodiment of the performer carrying it; Richard Lowdon’s tree (and cloud and wave for that matter) for example has a tendency to like to move a bit faster than the rest of the ensemble; slightly more childish and sneaky. Terry O’Connor’s is measured, slightly less fluid, intrigued by everything, and sometimes gets a bit bored. Then, instantly every single tree drops into a collective speed and energy, before breaking off again. It is sublime and satisfying to watch, and very, very hard to get right.
Throughout the performance I’m reminded of an exercise used excessively in theatre education (my drama school loved it)… The group is told to walk around the room, and ‘balance the space.’ I always used to get frustrated, because teachers/lecturers would moan if there was a gap that wasn’t filled. To them, this meant the space was unbalanced. In Last Adventures, it’s as if this game is constantly underpinning the ensemble’s motives. Unlike my tutors, however, they aren’t frustrated by negative space. Quite often it’s relished, exemplified. Because, of course, balance wouldn’t exist without imbalance. The space is always balanced. Just sometimes less regularly!
The Last Adventures is full of adventure. Talking on the train home we said “kids would love it!”… Perhaps a side effect of working on their first show for young audiences? I’m not too sure. The ‘play’ is often dark: lots of blood and guts, trees turning on lumberjacks, skeletons (making a return) begrudgingly held hostage, and damsels dancing through apocalyptic landscape.
If I were to offer any criticism, it would be that on just a tiny few occasions I questioned some of the honesty of the actors’ intent. But I don’t think that would bother Etchells. What is always so refreshing is how exposed these performers are, and how they cope with it, get themselves out of jail. And I missed Robin Arthur, always a great part of this ensemble.
Before I go, a word about Tarek Atoui. Atoui has a constant presence on stage, as DJ, I suppose. Atoui has certainly embraced the style of FE; smiling at fellow performers, his own persona emanating from the back corner. This piece would not be half as powerful, were it not for the sound, which literally fills the auditorium, ebbing flowing rising falling. The notice outside promises loud, and it was. It has a great sense of irony, when set against the broomstick machine guns and colander helmets (I particularly liked the pink one). If anything, I think it could go louder.
Forced Entertainment have brought to life what feels like an epic saga for the future, full of the energy, precision and thought-provoking gumption we’ve come to expect from them.
Oh, and there’s a robot.